Best of Rationality Quotes

80 points Rain 03 August 2010 12:56:46AM Permalink

Personally, I've been hearing all my life about the Serious Philosophical Issues posed by life extension, and my attitude has always been that I'm willing to grapple with those issues for as many centuries as it takes.

-- Patrick Nielsen Hayden

54 points michaelkeenan 01 March 2010 11:00:15AM Permalink

"You know what they say the modern version of Pascal's Wager is? Sucking up to as many Transhumanists as possible, just in case one of them turns into God." - Julie from Crystal Nights by Greg Egan

51 points RichardKennaway 01 February 2010 10:16:33AM Permalink

From a BBC interview with a retiring Oxford Don:

Don: "Up until the age of 25, I believed that 'invective' was a synonym for 'urine'."

BBC: "Why ever would you have thought that?"

Don: "During my childhood, I read many of the Edgar Rice Burroughs 'Tarzan' stories, and in those books, whenever a lion wandered into a clearing, the monkeys would leap into the trees and 'cast streams of invective upon the lion's head.'"

BBC: long pause "But, surely sir, you now know the meaning of the word."

Don: "Yes, but I do wonder under what other misapprehensions I continue to labour."

44 points anonym 03 November 2010 06:30:42AM Permalink

If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top … that comes along makes a fortuitous life preserver. But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday’s fortuitous contrivings.

Buckminster Fuller

42 points Yvain 01 February 2010 12:21:53PM Permalink

On utility:

culturejammer: you know what pennies are AWESOME for?

culturejammer: throwing at cats

culturejammer: it only costs a single penny

culturejammer: and they'll either chase it, or get hit by it and look pissed off

culturejammer: i now use that system to value prices of things

culturejammer: for example, a thirty dollar game has to be at least as awesome as three thousand catpennies

--bash.org

41 points Tesseract 03 December 2010 09:21:13AM Permalink

He uses statistics as a drunkard uses a lamppost: for support, not for illumination.

G.K. Chesterton

38 points CronoDAS 01 March 2010 09:30:58PM Permalink

The Patrician took a sip of his beer. "I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect I never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I'm sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged onto a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to its day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that's when I first learned about evil. It is built in to the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior."

-- Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals

37 points Unnamed 15 June 2009 01:06:29AM Permalink

"Sometimes men come by the name of genius in the same way that certain insects come by the name of centipede; not because they have a hundred feet, but because most people cannot count above fourteen."

-- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

related: The Level Above Mine

36 points MichaelGR 30 November 2009 12:23:59AM Permalink

It has always appalled me that really bright scientists almost all work in the most competitive fields, the ones in which they are making the least difference. In other words, if they were hit by a truck, the same discovery would be made by somebody else about 10 minutes later.

--Aubrey de Grey

36 points Cyan 01 March 2010 04:14:28PM Permalink

My genes done gone and tricked my brain

By making fucking feel so great

That's how the little creeps attain

Their plan to fuckin' replicate

But brain's got tricks itself, you see

To get the bang but not the bite

I got this here vasectomy

My genes can fuck themselves tonight.

—The r-selectors, Trunclade, quoted in Blindsight by Peter Watts

36 points knb 03 May 2010 03:06:59AM Permalink

From Thomas Macaulay's 1848 History of England.

[W]e are under a deception similar to that which misleads the traveler in the Arabian desert. Beneath the caravan all is dry and bare; but far in advance, and far in the rear, is the semblance of refreshing waters... A similar illusion seems to haunt nations through every stage of the long progress from poverty and barbarism to the highest degrees of opulence and civilization. But if we resolutely chase the mirage backward, we shall find it recede before us into the regions of fabulous antiquity. It is now the fashion to place the golden age of England in times when noblemen were destitute of comforts the want of which would be intolerable to a modern footman, when farmers and shopkeepers breakfasted on loaves the very sight of which would raise a riot in a modern workhouse, when to have a clean shirt once a week was a privilege reserved for the higher class of gentry, when men died faster in the purest country air than they now die in the most pestilential lanes of our towns, and when men died faster in the lanes of our towns than they now die on the coast of Guiana.

.................................

We too shall in our turn be outstripped, and in our turn be envied. It may well be, in the twentieth century, that the peasant of Dorsetshire may think himself miserably paid with twenty shillings a week; that the carpenter at Greenwich may receive ten shillings a day; that laboring men may be as little used to dine without meat as they are now to eat rye bread; that sanitary police and medical discoveries may have added several more years to the average length of human life; that numerous comforts and luxuries which are now unknown, or confined to a few, may be within the reach of every diligent and thrifty workingman. And yet it may then be the mode to assert that the increase of wealth and the progress of science have benefited the few at the expense of the many, and to talk of the reign of Queen Victoria as the time when England was truly merry England, when all classes were bound together by brotherly sympathy, when the rich did not grind the faces of the poor, and when the poor did not envy the splendor of the rich.

35 points MichaelGR 03 December 2010 05:39:42PM Permalink

The Noah principle: predicting rain doesn’t count, building arks does.

-Warren E. Buffett

34 points MichaelGR 01 March 2010 10:26:40PM Permalink

John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.

-Isaac Asimov, The Relativity of Wrong

33 points RobinZ 01 April 2010 11:44:06PM Permalink

I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion that I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.

Daniel Dennett, interview for TPM: The Philosophers Magazine

32 points cousin_it 22 October 2009 06:04:21PM Permalink

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.

-- Winston Churchill

32 points MichaelHoward 01 May 2010 10:11:56AM Permalink

The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at and repair.

-- Douglas Adams

31 points Lightwave 02 September 2010 10:59:12AM Permalink

When people ask me what philosophy is, I say philosophy is what you do when you don't know what the right questions are yet. Once you get the questions right, then you go answer them, and that's typically not philosophy, that's one science or another. Anywhere in life where you find that people aren't quite sure what the right questions to ask are, what they're doing, then, is philosophy.

-- Daniel Dennett

31 points RichardKennaway 05 October 2010 01:33:08PM Permalink

One thing I have advocated, without much success, is that children be taught social rules (when they are ready) in exactly the same way they are taught and teach each other games. The point is not whether the rules are right or wrong. Are the rules of 5-card stud poker or hopscotch right or wrong? It's that we're playing a certain game here, and there are rules to this game just as in any other game. If you want to be in the game, then you have to learn how to play it. Different groups of people play different games (different rules = different game), so if you want to play in different groups, you have to learn the games they play. When you develop the levels of understanding above the rule level, you'll be able to understand all games, and be able to join in anywhere. You won't be stuck knowing how to play only one game.

My problem with selling this idea is that people tend to think that their game is the only right one. In fact, being told that they are playing a game with arbitrary rules is insulting or frightening. They want to believe that the rules they know are the ones that everyone ought to play by; they even set up systems of punishment and reward to make sure that nobody tries to play a different game. They turn the game into something that is deadly serious, and so my idea simply seems frivolous instead of liberating.

William T. Powers

30 points gwern 30 November 2009 02:04:43AM Permalink

"When will we realize that the fact that we can become accustomed to anything, however disgusting at first, makes it necessary to examine carefully everything we have become accustomed to?"

--George Bernard Shaw, A Treatise on Parents and Children (1910)

30 points Kutta 02 July 2010 07:38:00AM Permalink

If anything of the classical supernatural existed, it would be a branch of engineering by now.

-- Steve Gilham

30 points anonym 03 December 2010 08:36:05AM Permalink

Truth is much too complicated to allow anything but approximations.

— John Von Neumann

29 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 June 2009 01:17:40AM Permalink

"People are mostly sane enough, of course, in the affairs of common life: the getting of food, shelter, and so on. But the moment they attempt any depth or generality of thought, they go mad almost infallibly. The vast majority, of course, adopt the local religious madness, as naturally as they adopt the local dress. But the more powerful minds will, equally infallibly, fall into the worship of some intelligent and dangerous lunatic, such as Plato, or Augustine, or Comte, or Hegel, or Marx."

-- David Stove, What Is Wrong With Our Thoughts

29 points James_Miller 22 October 2009 05:33:12PM Permalink

You want to learn from experience, but you want to learn from other people’s experience when you can.

Warren Buffett

29 points Kyre 02 September 2010 05:41:48AM Permalink

Comic Quote Minus 37

-- Ryan Armand

Also a favourite.

28 points RobinZ 22 October 2009 04:46:10PM Permalink

The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.

-- George Bernard Shaw, writer, Nobel laureate (1856-1950)

Edit: The full citation is to his 1903 play Man and superman: a comedy and a philosophy, where the character John Tanner ("M.I.R.C., Member of the Idle Rich Class") says:

Yes, because to be treated as a boy was to be taken on the old footing. I had become a new person ; and those who knew the old person laughed at me. The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor : he took my measure anew every time he saw me, whilst all the rest went on with their old measurements and expected them to fit me.

28 points Yvain 07 October 2010 07:00:04PM Permalink

Even after ten thousand explanations, a fool is no wiser, but an intelligent man requires only two thousand five hundred.

-- Brahma, Mahabharata

27 points Morendil 01 September 2010 06:55:22AM Permalink

Writing program code is a good way of debugging your thinking.

-- Bill Venables

26 points anonym 01 February 2010 06:53:17AM Permalink

Education is a technology that tries to make up for what the human mind is innately bad at. Children don't have to go to school to learn how to walk, talk, recognize objects, or remember the personalities of their friends, even though these tasks are much harder than reading, adding, or remembering dates in history. They do have to go to school to learn written language, arithmetic, and science, because those bodies of knowledge and skill were invented too recently for any species-wide knack for them to have evolved.

Steven Pinker -- The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

26 points sketerpot 02 March 2010 12:43:39AM Permalink

He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.

-John McCarthy, on mainstream environmentalism.

As someone who regularly gets into arguments about this, I can say that he's definitely right; you wouldn't believe the amount of nonsense that can be disposed of simply by looking up the relevant numbers and doing a minute's worth of easy arithmetic.

For example, I've heard some people recently claiming that a combination of solar photovoltaics, electrolysis to produce hydrogen, and these new Bloom box fuel cells are cheaper than nuclear fission. Look up the costs of solar farms; about $3 per peak watt. Their average power output is less; we can very optimistically assume that they run at 20% of capacity on average. Efficiency losses from electrolysis and fuel cells are about 50%. Putting it all together, this would cost about $30 per watt of average power delivered. Not including the cost of the fuel cells.

A little googling will show that the total cost of building two new AP1000 reactors in Georgia is about $14 billion, and they average at least 93% of their peak power, and transmission line losses bring their average power delivered to about 1000 MW each. So their cost is about $7 per watt of average power delivered, or about 23% the cost of solar.

There's a lot of extremely harmful bullshit out there, and defeating most of it doesn't take any advanced techniques; it just takes a willingness to look up some relevant numbers and do a bit of arithmetic.

26 points RobinZ 01 April 2010 11:44:53PM Permalink

My dad used to have an expression: "Don't tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value."

Joe Biden, remarks delivered in Saint Clair Shores, MI, Monday, September 15, 2008

26 points Jayson_Virissimo 02 July 2010 05:35:48PM Permalink

Doubt, n. The philosophical device Descartes so cleverly used to prove everything he previously believed.

-L. A. Rollins, Lucifer's Lexicon

26 points billswift 03 December 2010 05:21:36AM Permalink

A little learning is not a dangerous thing to one who does not mistake it for a great deal.

-- William A White

25 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 April 2009 01:28:35AM Permalink

Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there'.

-- Randall Munroe

25 points SilasBarta 01 September 2009 03:42:39PM Permalink

During the discussion of Pranknet on Slashdot about a month ago, I saw this comment. It reminded me of our discussions about Newcomb's problem and superrationality.

I also disagree that our society is based on mutual trust. Volumes and volumes of laws backed up by lawyers, police, and jails show otherwise.

That's called selection/observation bias. You're looking at only one side of the coin.

I've lived in countries where there's a lot less trust than here. The notion of returning an opened product to a store and getting a full refund is based on trust (yes, there's a profit incentive, and some people do screw the retailers [and the retailers their customers -- SB], but the system works overall). In some countries I've been to, this would be unfeasible: Almost everyone will try to exploit such a retailer.

When a storm knocks out the electricity and the traffic lights stop working, I've always seen everyone obeying the rules. I doubt it's because they're worried about cops. It's about trust that the other drivers will do likewise. Simply unworkable in other places I've lived in.

I've had neighbors whom I don't know receive UPS/FedEx packages for me. Again, trust. I don't think they're afraid of me beating them up.

There are loads of examples. Society, at least in the US, is fairly nice and a lot of that has to do with a common trust.

Which is why someone exploiting that trust is a despised person.

25 points Unnamed 08 January 2010 12:48:32AM Permalink

"Most haystacks do not even have a needle."

-- Lorenzo

25 points Rain 07 January 2010 11:39:22PM Permalink

In the wake of such suffering, there is no way to adequately explain the tragedy. Yet the seemingly random nature of the mass deaths has made them even harder for the survivors to understand.

"In a situation like this, it's only natural to want to assign blame," said Dr. Frederick MacDougal of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, who recently lost a third cousin to a degenerative nerve disorder. "But the disturbing thing about this case is that no one factor is at fault. People are dying for such a wide range of reasons--gunshot wounds, black-lung disease, falls down elevator shafts--that we have been unable to isolate any single element as the cause."

"No one simple explanation can encompass the enormous scope of this problem," MacDougal added. "And that's very difficult for most people to process psychologically."

[...]

Meanwhile, as the world continues to grapple with this seemingly unstoppable threat, the deaths--and the sorrow, fear and pain they have wrought--continue.

As Margaret Heller, a volunteer at a clinic in Baltimore put it, "We do everything we can. But for most of the people we try to help, the sad truth is it's only a matter of time."

-- The Onion, Millions and Millions Dead

Related: World Death Rate Holding Steady At 100 Percent

25 points Kutta 01 February 2010 02:40:35PM Permalink

Many people equate tolerance with the attitude that every belief is equally true, and that we should all simply accept this fact and go our separate ways. But I view tolerance as the willingness to come together, to face one another in the same room and hack at each other with claw hammers until the truth finally trickles out from the blood and the tears.

-- Raving Atheist, found via the Black Belt Bayesian blog (props to Steven)

25 points Rain 02 July 2010 12:05:26AM Permalink

Nature draws no line between living and nonliving.

-- K. Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation

24 points RichardKennaway 01 February 2010 11:53:30AM Permalink

"Intuition only works in situations where neurology and evolution has pre-equipped us with a good set of basic-level categories. That works for dealing with other humans, and for throwing things, and for a bunch of other things that do not, unfortunately, include constructing viable philosophies."

-- Eric S. Raymond

24 points Nic_Smith 01 February 2010 07:43:17AM Permalink

If you can't feel secure - and teach your children to feel secure - about 1-in-610,000 nightmare scenarios - the problem isn't the world. It's you.

-- Bryan Caplan

24 points Hariant 09 October 2010 01:42:32AM Permalink

Philosopher: Can we ever be certain an observation is true?

Engineer: Yep.

Philosopher: How?

Engineer: Lookin'.

Scrollover of SMBC #1879

24 points MichaelGR 03 December 2010 05:40:15PM Permalink

A man who has committed a mistake and doesn't correct it, is committing another mistake.

-Confucius

23 points Yvain 15 June 2009 09:57:40AM Permalink

"Voting in a democracy makes you feel powerful, much as playing the lottery makes you feel rich." -- Mencius Moldbug

23 points Vlad 15 June 2009 08:09:13AM Permalink

"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence." Christopher Hitchens

23 points RichardKennaway 15 June 2009 05:32:08AM Permalink

"What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite."

Bertrand Russell, Free Thought and Official Propaganda, in "Sceptical Essays".

23 points RobinZ 22 October 2009 04:44:32PM Permalink

[I]n my opinion nothing occurs contrary to nature except the impossible, and that never occurs.

-- Sagredo, "Two New Sciences" (1914 translation), Galileo Galilei

23 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 November 2009 11:39:02PM Permalink

Just a few centuries ago, the smartest humans alive were dead wrong about damn near everything. They were wrong about gods. Wrong about astronomy. Wrong about disease. Wrong about heredity. Wrong about physics. Wrong about racism, sexism, nationalism, governance, and many other moral issues. Wrong about geology. Wrong about cosmology. Wrong about chemistry. Wrong about evolution. Wrong about nearly every subject imaginable.

-- Luke Muehlhauser

23 points JamesAndrix 09 December 2010 07:28:48AM Permalink

A young boy walks into a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer, “This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it to you.” The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?” The boy takes the quarters and leaves. “What did I tell you?” said the barber. “That kid never learns!” Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream store. “Hey, son! May I ask you a question? Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?” The boy licked his cone and replied, “Because the day I take the dollar, the game is over!”

Found on /r/funny

23 points Tetronian 03 December 2010 05:39:17AM Permalink

The question I ask myself like almost everyday is 'Am I doing the most important thing I could be doing?'

Mark Zuckerberg

22 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 June 2009 01:12:22AM Permalink

"I have now reigned about 50 years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot. They amount to fourteen."

-- Abd Er-Rahman III of Spain, 960 AD.

22 points arundelo 03 July 2009 01:32:56AM Permalink

Numerical arithmetic should look to children like a simpler and faster way of doing things that they know how to do already, not a set of mysterious recipes for getting right answers to meaningless questions.

John Holt, How Children Fail, p. 101

See also Paul Lockhart.

22 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 July 2009 10:14:44PM Permalink

When I was young, I thought the act of getting older meant, year by year, getting more sophisticated, more hard, cool, and unpitying. Less innocent.

Maybe that was a childish idea of what getting older was about. Maybe adults, mature adults, get more innocent with time, not less. Because the word "innocent" does not mean "naive," it means "not guilty."

Children do small evils to each other, schoolyard fights and insults, not because their hearts are pure, but because their powers are small. Grown-ups have more power. Some of them do great evils with that power. But what about the ones who don't? Aren't they more innocent than children, not less?

-- John C. Wright, Fugitives of Chaos

22 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 July 2009 10:07:14PM Permalink

There is no real me! Don't try to find the real me! Don't try to find someone inside of me who isn't me!

-- Princess Waltz

Commentary: What's odd is not how many people think they contain other people. What's odd is how many of those people think the other person is the real one.

22 points DaveInNYC 24 October 2009 06:53:52PM Permalink

I have met people who exaggerate the differences [between the morality of different cultures], because they have not distinguished between differences of morality and differences of belief about facts. For example, one man said to me, "Three hundred years ago people in England were putting witches to death. Was that what you call the Rule of Human Nature or Right Conduct?" But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things. If we did-if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather, surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did. There is no difference of moral principle here: the difference is simply about matter of fact. It may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches: there is no moral advance in not executing them when you do not think they are there. You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house.

-C.S. Lewis

22 points Rain 01 March 2010 09:53:48PM Permalink

If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them.

-- Isaac Asimov

22 points Theist 04 June 2010 11:27:54PM Permalink

"I accidentally changed my mind."

my four-year-old

22 points Apprentice 03 August 2010 01:15:30PM Permalink

Upon his death man must leave everything behind ... and depart forever from the world he has known. He must of necessity go to that foul land of death, a fact which makes death the most sorrowful of all events. ... Some foreign doctrines, however, teach that death should not be regarded as profoundly sorrowful. ... These are all gross deceptions contrary to human sentiment and fundamental truths. Not to be happy over happy events, not to be saddened by sorrowful events, not to show surprise at astonishing events, in a word, to consider it proper not to be moved by whatever happens, are all foreign types of deception and falsehood. They are contrary to human nature and extremely repugnant to me.

-- Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) - quoted from Blocker, Japanese Philosophy, p. 109

Motoori was as far as you can get from being a rationalist but this quote was so Yudkowskian that I felt it belonged here.

22 points DSimon 03 August 2010 03:27:01AM Permalink

My hotel doesn't have a 13th floor because of superstition, but people on the 14th floor, you should know what floor you're really on. If you jump out the window, you will die sooner than you expect.

-- Mitch Hedberg (Quoted from memory)

22 points Rain 03 September 2010 12:15:26PM Permalink

Robot: "With all your modern science, are you any closer to understanding the mystery of how a robot walks or talks?"

Farnsworth: "Yes you idiot! The circuit diagram is right in the inside of your case."

Robot: "I choose to believe what I was programmed to believe!"

-- Futurama, The Honking

22 points Tesseract 05 November 2010 08:34:18PM Permalink

Kołakowski's Law, or The Law of the Infinite Cornucopia:

For any given doctrine that one wants to believe, there is never a shortage of arguments by which to support it.

Leszek Kołakowski

22 points anonym 03 November 2010 06:52:53AM Permalink

Go down deep enough into anything and you will find mathematics.

Dean Schlicter

22 points sketerpot 03 December 2010 10:25:21PM Permalink

Mitch Hedberg on the distinction between labels and the things to which they are applied:

I just bought a 2-bedroom house, but it's up to me, isn't it, how many bedrooms there are? Fuck you, real estate lady! This bedroom has a oven in it! This bedroom’s got a lot of people sitting around watching TV. This bedroom is A.K.A. a hallway.

21 points wuwei 15 June 2009 04:39:02AM Permalink

"Muad'Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It's shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad'Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson."

-- Frank Herbert, Dune

21 points RobinZ 30 November 2009 12:05:58AM Permalink

It helps to stop worrying about what you are and concentrate on what you do. If you think of a poet as a person with some special qualifications that come by nature (or divine favor), you are likely to make one of two mistakes about yourself. If you think you've got what it takes, you may fail to learn what you need to know in order to use whatever qualities you may have. On the other hand, if you think you do not have what it takes, you may give up too easily, thinking it is useless to try. A poet is someone - you, me, anyone - who writes poems. That question out of the way, now we can learn to write poems better.

Judson Jerome, The Poet's Handbook, Chap. 1 ("From Sighs and Groans to Art")

21 points anonym 04 April 2010 01:43:41AM Permalink

Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise.

Bertrand Russell

21 points anonym 02 May 2010 03:06:51AM Permalink

If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.

-- Bertrand Russell

21 points BenAlbahari 01 June 2010 10:28:12PM Permalink

I know that most men — not only those considered clever, but even those who are very clever and capable of understanding most difficult scientific, mathematical, or philosophic, problems — can seldom discern even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as obliges them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with much difficulty — conclusions of which they are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which they have built their lives.

— Leo Tolstoy, 1896 (excerpt from "What Is Art?")

20 points billswift 20 May 2009 12:32:56AM Permalink

And when someone makes a statement you don't understand, don't tell him he's crazy. Ask him what he means.

-- H Beam Piper, "Space Viking"

20 points arundelo 03 July 2009 01:36:57AM Permalink

On some pitch black mornings, hearing what I knew was a cold wind howling outside, I might think, "Well, it is certainly comfortable in this bed, and maybe it wouldn't hurt if I just skipped practicing to-day." But my response to this was not to draw on something called will power, to insult or threaten myself, but to take a longer look at my life, to extend my vision, to think about the whole of my experience, to reconnect present and future, and quite specifically, to ask myself, "Do you like playing the cello or not? Would you like to play it better or not?" When I put the matter this way I could see that I enjoyed playing the cello more than I enjoyed staying in bed. So I got up. If, as sometimes happened or happens, I do stay in bed, not sleeping, not really thinking, but just not getting up, it is not because will power is weak but because I have temporarily become disconnected, so to speak, from the wholeness of my life. I am living in that Now that some people pursue so frantically, that gets harder to find the harder we look for it.

John Holt, Freedom and Beyond, p. 119

See also this comment by Z_M_Davis.

20 points Yvain 02 April 2010 12:46:16AM Permalink

"Everyone thinks they've won the Magical Belief Lottery. Everyone thinks they more or less have a handle on things, that they, as opposed to the billions who disagree with them, have somehow lucked into the one true belief system."

-- R Scott Bakker, Neuropath

20 points Kutta 01 May 2010 06:36:57AM Permalink

Forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.

20 points CSmith 02 July 2010 04:53:11AM Permalink

"Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies."

--Friedrich Nietzsche

20 points komponisto 02 July 2010 12:07:04AM Permalink

Hunches are not bad, they just need to be allowed to die a natural death when evidence proves them wrong.

-- Steve Moore, former FBI agent

20 points Randaly 03 August 2010 04:45:58AM Permalink

"Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from SCIENCE!"

~Girl Genius

20 points Yvain 01 September 2010 06:53:36PM Permalink

We have not solved all your problems. Each answer only led to new questions. We are still confused - but perhaps we are confused on a higher level, and about more important things.

-- seen on a hotel bulletin board

20 points Yvain 07 October 2010 07:04:21PM Permalink

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."

— Marcus Aurelius

20 points SarahC 06 October 2010 01:48:49PM Permalink

To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it--the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.

... "But," says one, "I am a busy man; I have no time for the long course of study which would be necessary to make me in any degree a competent judge of certain questions, or even able to understand the nature of the arguments."

Then he should have no time to believe.

--W. K. Clifford, "The Ethics of Belief."

20 points Alexandros 11 December 2010 11:03:27AM Permalink

if you're the smartest person in the room, go look for a room with smarter people in it.

kevinpet at Hacker News

19 points gjm 19 April 2009 12:59:34AM Permalink

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Aristotle

19 points wuwei 15 June 2009 04:15:12AM Permalink

"Science is what we understand well enough to explain to a computer. Art is everything else we do. ... Science advances whenever an Art becomes a Science. And the state of the Art advances too because people always leap into new territory once they have understood more about the old."

-- Donald Knuth

19 points Marcello 02 July 2009 10:16:22PM Permalink

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

-- Voltaire

19 points RichardKennaway 02 July 2009 10:05:51PM Permalink

"Experiment and theory often show remarkable agreement when performed in the same laboratory."

-- Daniel Bershader

19 points Rune 06 August 2009 03:43:35AM Permalink

"As an adolescent I aspired to lasting fame, I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life - so I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls."

-- M. Cartmill

19 points djcb 30 November 2009 07:07:05PM Permalink

Today, safe flight inside clouds is possible using gyroscopic instruments that report the airplane’s orientation without being misled by centrifugal effects. But the pilot’s spatial intuition is still active, and often contradicts the instruments. Pilots are explicitly, emphatically trained to trust the instruments and ignore intuition—precisely the opposite of the Star Wars advice—and those who fail to do so often perish.

-- Gary Drescher "Good and Real"

(I really like this quote as a counterweight to the ubiquitous cliche-advise to follow you intuition. Often, your intuition may be fooled. And, it cannot be repeated often enough, Good and Real is a must-read for LW-minded folks)

19 points saliency 30 November 2009 01:26:44AM Permalink

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying." --Woody Allen

19 points MichaelGR 01 March 2010 10:27:23PM Permalink

Science is the only news. When you scan through a newspaper or magazine, all the human interest stuff is the same old he-said-she-said, the politics and economics the same sorry cyclic dramas, the fashions a pathetic illusion of newness, and even the technology is predictable if you know the science. Human nature doesn’t change much; science does, and the change accrues, altering the world irreversibly.

--Stewart Brand, Whole Earth Discipline (2009), p 216

19 points Rain 01 April 2010 08:48:19PM Permalink

The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.

-- George Eliot

19 points thomascolthurst 03 September 2010 11:28:42PM Permalink

Someone once quoted Shakespeare to the philosopher W. V. O. Quine: "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy." To which Quine is said to have responded: "Possibly, but my concern is that there not be more things in my philosophy than are in heaven and earth."

Reported by Chet Raymo

19 points Rain 05 October 2010 05:37:38PM Permalink

The singularity is my retirement plan.

-- tocomment, in a Hacker News post

19 points PeterS 03 November 2010 05:22:17AM Permalink

Rule I

We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.

To this purpose the philosophers say that Nature does nothing in vain, and more is in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity, and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.

Rule II

Therefore to the same natural effects we must, as far as possible, assign the same causes.

As to respiration in a man and in a beast; the descent of stones in Europe and in America; the light of our culinary fire and of the sun; the reflection of light in the earth, and in the planets.

Rule III

The qualities of bodies, which admit neither intensification nor remission of degrees, and which are found to belong to all bodies within the reach of our experiments, are to be esteemed the universal qualities of all bodies whatsoever.

For since the qualities of bodies are only known to us by experiments, we are to hold for universal all such as universally agree with experiments; and such as are not liable to diminution can never be quite taken away. We are certainly not to relinquish the evidence for the sake of dreams and vain fictions of our own devising; nor are we to recede from the analogy of Nature, which is wont to be simple, and always consonant to itself. . .

Rule IV

In experimental philosophy we are to look upon propositions inferred by general induction from phenomena as accurately or very nearly true, notwithstanding any contrary hypotheses that may be imagined, till such time as other phenomena occur, by which they may either be made more accurate, or liable to exceptions.

This rule we must follow, that the argument of induction may not be evaded by hypotheses.

Isaac Newton, Philosophiae naturalis: Rules of Reasoning in Philosophy

19 points RichardKennaway 02 November 2010 09:43:19PM Permalink

The fact that I have no remedy for all the sorrows of the world is no reason for my accepting yours. It simply supports the strong probability that yours is a fake.

H.L. Mencken, Minority Report.

19 points jaimeastorga2000 02 November 2010 08:49:16PM Permalink

From desert cliff and mountaintop we trace the wide design,

Strike-slip fault and overthrust and syn and anticline...

We gaze upon creation where erosion makes it known,

And count the countless aeons in the banding of the stone.

Odd, long-vanished creatures and their tracks shells are found;

Where truth has left its sketches on the slate below the ground.

The patient stone can speak, if we but listen when it talks.

Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the rocks.

There are those who name the stars, who watch the sky by night,

Seeking out the darkest place, to better see the light.

Long ago, when torture broke the remnant of his will,

Galileo recanted, but the Earth is moving still.

High above the mountaintops, where only distance bars,

The truth has left its footprints in the dust between the stars.

We may watch and study or may shudder and deny,

Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the sky.

By stem and root and branch we trace, by feather, fang and fur,

How the living things that are descend from things that were.

The moss, the kelp, the zebrafish, the very mice and flies,

These tiny, humble, wordless things--how shall they tell us lies?

We are kin to beasts; no other answer can we bring.

The truth has left its fingerprints on every living thing.

Remember, should you have to choose between them in the strife,

Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote life.

And we who listen to the stars, or walk the dusty grade,

Or break the very atoms down to see how they are made,

Or study cells, or living things, seek truth with open hand.

The profoundest act of worship is to try to understand.

Deep in flower and in flesh, in star and soil and seed,

The truth has left its living word for anyone to read.

So turn and look where best you think the story is unfurled.

Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the world.

~Catherine Faber, The Word of God

19 points billswift 03 December 2010 05:16:54AM Permalink

In the Information Age, the first step to sanity is FILTERING. Filter the information; extract the knowledge.

Filter first for substance. Filter second for significance. These filters protect against advertising.

Filter third for reliability. This filter protects against politicians.

Filter fourth for completeness. This filter protects from the media.

-- Marc Stielger, David's Sling

18 points Rune 18 April 2009 09:00:18PM Permalink

Sheldon: "More wrong?" Wrong is an absolute state and not subject to gradation.

Stuart: Of course it is. It's a little wrong to call a tomato a vegetable; it's very wrong to say it's a suspension bridge.

-- The Big Bang Theory

18 points Yvain 18 April 2009 01:26:56PM Permalink

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world, and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

-- E. B. White

18 points Rune 21 May 2009 02:24:57AM Permalink

"We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."

-- H. L. Mencken

18 points ata 07 August 2009 04:50:43AM Permalink

"A witty saying proves nothing." -- Voltaire

I've always found that useful to keep in mind when reading threads like this.

18 points Vladimir_Nesov 23 October 2009 08:55:32AM Permalink

When things are hard to understand, people who suspect they're nonsense generally keep quiet.

-- Paul Graham

18 points Yvain 22 October 2009 08:53:47PM Permalink

A great many years ago, a couple of Jehovah Witnesses bit off more than they could chew with my grandmother. During the unsolicited conversation one of them remarked, "Only God can make a rainbow". To which my grandmother-who was watering her plants at the time-said, "Nonsense!", and created her own rainbow with a spray of water from the hose. Family lore has it that was the end of the conversation.

-- seen on Livejournal

18 points anonym 30 November 2009 01:40:26AM Permalink

In general, we are least aware of what our minds do best.

— Marvin Minsky

18 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 November 2009 11:44:45PM Permalink

Your calendar never lies. All we have is our time. The way we spend our time is our priorities, is our "strategy." Your calendar knows what you really care about. Do you?

-- Tom Peters, HT Ben Casnocha

18 points Rain 01 February 2010 12:44:08PM Permalink

One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.

I will maintain a realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Even though this takes some of the fun out of the job, at least I will never utter the line "No, this cannot be! I AM INVINCIBLE!!!" (After that, death is usually instantaneous.)

I will be neither chivalrous nor sporting. If I have an unstoppable superweapon, I will use it as early and as often as possible instead of keeping it in reserve.

If my advisors ask "Why are you risking everything on such a mad scheme?", I will not proceed until I have a response that satisfies them.

I will see a competent psychiatrist and get cured of all extremely unusual phobias and bizarre compulsive habits which could prove to be a disadvantage.

I will never build a sentient computer smarter than I am.

-- Peters Evil Overlord List on how to be a less wrong fictional villain

18 points Rain 01 February 2010 12:41:11PM Permalink

As we know,

There are known knowns.

There are things

We know we know.

We also know

There are known unknowns.

That is to say

We know there are some things

We do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns,

The ones we don't know

We don't know.

-- Donald Rumsfeld, Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

18 points anonym 01 February 2010 06:51:49AM Permalink

Thinking is skilled work. It is not true that we are naturally endowed with the ability to think clearly and logically--without learning how, or without practicing.... People with untrained minds should no more expect to think clearly and logically than people who have never learned and never practiced can expect to find themselves good carpenters, golfers, bridge-players, or pianists.

Alfred Mander -- Logic for the Millions

18 points Rain 01 March 2010 09:54:29PM Permalink

In an universe full of inanimate material, sentient beings are gods.

-- spire3661, in a Slashdot post

18 points Kaj_Sotala 01 March 2010 06:28:11PM Permalink

(posted in the right thread this time)

People constantly ignore my good advice by contributing to the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, CARE, and public radio all in the same year--as if they were thinking, "OK, I think I've pretty much wrapped up the problem of heart disease; now let's see what I can do about cancer."

--- Steven Landsburg (original link by dclayh)

18 points RobinZ 05 April 2010 03:16:59PM Permalink

You don't have to believe everything you think.

Seen on bumper sticker, via ^zhurnaly.

18 points Kaj_Sotala 01 May 2010 08:51:41PM Permalink

(In a thread where people were asked whether or not they had a religious experience of "feeling God"):

I had something similar to feeling God, I suppose, except it was in essence the exact opposite. I was in a forest one summer, and I looked up at the sunlight shining through the leaves, and suddenly it felt like I could see each and every individual leaf in the forest and trace the path of each photon that poured through them, and I remember thinking over and over, in stunned amazement, "the world is sufficient. The world is sufficient."

I'd never thought much about religion before that, but that experience made me realize that the material world was entire orders of magnitude more beautiful than any of the tawdry religious fantasies people came up with, and it felt unspeakably tragic that anyone would ever reject this, our most incredible universe, for spiritual pipe-dreams. In a way, you might say I felt the lack of god, and it felt like glory.

-- Axiomatic

18 points Rain 01 May 2010 02:22:03PM Permalink

We live in a vast and awesome universe in which, daily, suns are made and worlds destroyed, where humanity clings to an obscure clod of rock. The significance of our lives and our fragile realm derives from our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life's meaning.

-- Carl Sagan

18 points Kaj_Sotala 02 July 2010 12:36:22AM Permalink

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny..."

-- Isaac Asimov

18 points Jayson_Virissimo 03 August 2010 02:38:38AM Permalink

The fact that you are giving money to charity does not mean that you need not try to find out whether that charity is a fraud or not.

-C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

18 points cata 06 October 2010 07:25:11PM Permalink

One of my mentors once gave me a list of obvious things to check when stuff doesn't work. Funny, years later I still need this list:

  1. It worked. No one touched it but you. It doesn't work. It's probably something you did.

  2. It worked. You made one change. It doesn't work. It's probably the change you made.

  3. It worked. You promoted it. It doesn't work. Your testing environment probably isn't the same as your production environment.

  4. It worked for these 10 cases. It didn't work for the 11th case. It was probably never right in the first place.

  5. It worked perfectly for 10 years. Today it didn't work. Something probably changed.

edw519, Hacker News, on debugging.

I always need that list, too.

18 points Apprentice 06 October 2010 10:13:16AM Permalink

We live in a world where it has become "politically correct" to avoid absolutes. Many want all religions to be given the same honor, and all gods regarded as equally true and equally fictitious. But take these same people, who want fuzzy, all-inclusive thinking in spiritual matters, and put them on an airplane. You will find they insist on a very dogmatic, intolerant pilot who will stay on the "straight and narrow" glidepath so their life will not come to a violent end short of the runway. They want no fuzzy thinking here!

-- Jack T. Chick

18 points RichardKennaway 05 October 2010 12:37:58PM Permalink

Good sense is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed; for every one thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that those even who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else, do not usually desire a larger measure of this quality than they already possess.

Rene Descartes.

18 points DSimon 04 November 2010 08:06:19PM Permalink

Man, I'm amazing! I'm a machine that turns FOOD into IDEAS!

-- T-Rex, Dinosaur Comics #539

17 points CronoDAS 20 May 2009 04:22:05AM Permalink

"There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all." - Peter Drucker

17 points wuwei 15 June 2009 05:59:42AM Permalink

"One can measure the importance of a scientific work by the number of earlier publications rendered superfluous by it."

-- David Hilbert

17 points RobinZ 06 August 2009 01:05:22PM Permalink

No one has ever announced that because determinism is true thermostats do not control temperature.

Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations, qtd. in Daniel Dennett, Elbow Room

17 points RobinZ 06 August 2009 01:04:15PM Permalink

It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.

Whitehead, Alfred North (1861 - 1947), An Introduction to Mathematics.

17 points RichardKennaway 22 October 2009 11:48:39PM Permalink

"There is a superstition in avoiding superstition, when men think to do best if they go furthest from the superstition formerly received."

-- Francis Bacon

17 points RichardKennaway 01 April 2010 10:04:50PM Permalink

When I look around and think that everything's completely and utterly fucked up and hopeless, my first thought is "Am I wearing completely and utterly fucked up and hopeless-colored glasses?"

Crap Mariner (Lawrence Simon)

17 points Rain 01 April 2010 08:48:00PM Permalink

Any technique, however worthy and desirable, becomes a disease when the mind is obsessed with it.

-- Bruce Lee

17 points Rain 01 April 2010 08:47:41PM Permalink

The word agnostic is actually used with the two distinct meanings of personal ignorance and intrinsic unknowability in the same context. They are distinguished when necessary with a qualifier.

WEAK agnosticism: I have no fucking idea who fucked this shit up.

STRONG agnosticism: Nobody has any fucking idea who fucked this shit up.

There is a certain confusion with weak atheism which could (and frequently does) arise, but that is properly reserved for the category of theological noncognitivists,

WEAK atheism: What the fuck do you mean with this God shit?

STRONG atheism: Didn't take any God to fuck this shit up.

which is different again from weak theism.

WEAK theism: Somebody fucked this shit up.

STRONG theism: God fucked this shit up.

An interesting cross-categorical theological belief not easily represented above is

DEISM: God set this shit up and it fucked itself.

-- Snocone, in a Slashdot post

17 points Rain 01 May 2010 02:21:41PM Permalink

I've always believed that the mind is the best weapon.

-- John Rambo, Rambo: First Blood Part II

17 points MichaelGR 06 July 2010 02:49:03PM Permalink

From the Wikipedia article about perverse incentives:

In Hanoi, under French colonial rule, a program paying people a bounty for each rat pelt handed in was intended to exterminate rats. Instead, it led to the farming of rats.

and

19th century palaeontologists traveling to China used to pay peasants for each fragment of dinosaur bone (dinosaur fossils) that they produced. They later discovered that peasants dug up the bones and then smashed them into multiple pieces to maximise their payments.

17 points MarcTheEngineer 02 July 2010 03:41:55PM Permalink

"I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do."

Robert A. Heinlein

17 points Rain 03 August 2010 12:56:20AM Permalink

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

-- William James

17 points Kyre 02 September 2010 05:40:12AM Permalink

Comic Quote Minus 13

-- Ryan Armand

Sometimes I see something that just seems to hit the bullseye deeply in the centre, and sticks there, quivering.

17 points RichardKennaway 01 September 2010 07:30:30AM Permalink

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.

Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

17 points gwern 06 October 2010 12:23:32AM Permalink

'One day, Korzybski was giving a lecture to a group of students, and he interrupted the lesson suddenly in order to retrieve a packet of biscuits, wrapped in white paper, from his briefcase. He muttered that he just had to eat something, and he asked the students on the seats in the front row, if they would also like a biscuit. A few students took a biscuit.

"Nice biscuit, don't you think," said Korzybski, while he took a 2nd one. The students were chewing vigorously. Then he tore the white paper from the biscuits, in order to reveal the original packaging. On it was a big picture of a dog's head and the words "Dog Cookies."

The students looked at the package, and were shocked. Two of them wanted to vomit, put their hands in front of their mouths, and ran out of the lecture hall to the toilet.

"You see," Korzybski remarked, "I have just demonstrated that people don't just eat food, but also words, and that the taste of the former is often outdone by the taste of the latter."'

I think of this as a rationalist parable and not so much a quote. It has a lot of personal resonance since I often had dog biscuits with my tea when I was younger.

17 points anonym 03 November 2010 06:46:09AM Permalink

If you haven’t found something strange during the day, it hasn’t been much of a day.

John Archibald Wheeler

16 points Furcas 18 April 2009 10:11:19PM Permalink

When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong.

-- Richard Dawkins

16 points Henrik_Jonsson 15 June 2009 05:14:57AM Permalink

Once again, we are saddled with a Stone Age moral psychology that is appropriate to life in small, homogeneous communities in which all members share roughly the same moral outlook. Our minds trick us into thinking that we are absolutely right and that they are absolutely wrong because, once upon a time, this was a useful way to think. It is no more, though it remains natural as ever. We love our respective moral senses. They are as much a part of us as anything. But if we are to live together in the world we have created for ourselves, so unlike the one in which our ancestors evolved, we must know when to trust our moral senses and when to ignore them.

--Joshua Greene

16 points hegemonicon 06 August 2009 05:30:25AM Permalink

Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don't drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor's yard every time it pisses on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper. So I keep trying to gently bring my mind back to what is really there to be seen, maybe to be seen and noted with a kind of reverence. Because if I don't learn to do this, I think I'll keep getting things wrong.

-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

16 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 August 2009 04:05:53AM Permalink

Better our hypotheses die for our errors than ourselves.

-- Karl Popper

16 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 October 2009 04:16:51PM Permalink

Moral language persuades best when opinions are not yet formed, which is why writers of children’s literature can get away with saying things like, “Mr. Billings was an awful, horrible man with a heart of stone.” This sounds like a line from a children’s book because it employs persuasive methods that, though appropriate for children, would insult the intelligence of most adult readers.

Most moral discourse is the conversational equivalent of children’s literature. Disputants speak to one another—or, rather, at one another—as if their interlocutors failed to pay adequate attention on the day elementary morality was explained. Unaware of the projective nature of value, they marvel at their opponents’ blindness, their utter failure to see what is so perfectly obvious. Not knowing what else to do, they scold their opponents as if they were children, and scold them as if they were belligerent children when they fail to respond the first time.

What to do about this? Take a cue from good writers. Stick to the facts. Keep evaluative language to a minimum, and get rid of the most overtly judgmental, moralistic language.

-- Joshua Greene, The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Truth About Morality And What To Do About It

16 points gwern 30 November 2009 02:05:28AM Permalink

"CAESAR [recovering his self-possession]: Pardon him. Theodotus, he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature."

--George Bernard Shaw, Caesar and Cleopatra (1898)

16 points MichaelGR 30 November 2009 12:21:53AM Permalink

Politicians compete to bribe voters with their own money.

--Adapted from something in The Economist (sorry, they don't have bylines)

16 points MichaelGR 07 January 2010 09:52:09PM Permalink

If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend the first four sharpening the axe. - Abraham Lincoln

16 points Kevin 01 February 2010 08:38:40PM Permalink

Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.

-- Isaac Asimov via Salvor Hardin, Foundation

16 points gaffa 01 March 2010 05:20:03PM Permalink

…it is fatally easy to read a pattern into stochastically generated data.

-- John Maynard Smith (The Causes of Extinction, 1989)

16 points MichaelGR 05 April 2010 06:35:25AM Permalink

"Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution."

-- Clay Shirky

16 points CaptainOblivious2 03 April 2010 02:23:54AM Permalink

"All things end badly - or else they wouldn't end"

  • Brian Flanagan (Tom Cruise), Cocktail, 1988. He was referring to relationships, but it's actually a surprisingly general rule.
16 points Thomas 02 April 2010 04:52:20PM Permalink

Wandering in a vast forest at night, I have only a faint light to guide me. A stranger appears and says to me: 'My friend, you should blow out your candle in order to find your way more clearly.' The stranger is a theologian.

  • Denis Diderot
16 points Tyrrell_McAllister 01 May 2010 08:01:08PM Permalink

The light dove, cleaving the air in her free flight, and feeling its resistance, might imagine that its flight would be still easier in empty space. It was thus that Plato left the world of the senses, as setting too narrow limits to the understanding, and ventured out beyond it on the wings of the ideas, in the empty space of the pure understanding. He did not observe that with all his efforts he made no advance—meeting no resistance that might, as it were, serve as a support upon which he could take a stand, to which he could apply his powers, and so set his understanding in motion.

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (trans. Norman Kemp Smith), p. A5/B8.

16 points Rain 02 July 2010 12:05:14AM Permalink

The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.

-- Plutarch

16 points Kazuo_Thow 03 August 2010 03:56:18AM Permalink

... the history of mathematics is a history of horrendously difficult problems being solved by young people too ignorant to know that they were impossible.

-- Freeman Dyson, Birds and Frogs

16 points James_Miller 01 September 2010 02:52:25PM Permalink

Like all dreamers, I confused disenchantment with truth. (Jean-Paul Sartre)

16 points RichardKennaway 05 October 2010 12:41:05PM Permalink

On the same theme as the previous one:

I've begun worshipping the sun for a number of reasons. First of all, unlike some other gods I could mention, I can see the sun. It's there for me every day. And the things it brings me are quite apparent all the time: heat, light, food, a lovely day. There is no mystery, no one asks for money, I don't have to dress up, and there is no boring pageantry. And interestingly enough, I have found that the prayers I offer to the sun and the prayers I formerly offered to "God" are all answered at about the same 50-percent rate.

George Carlin

16 points gwern 15 December 2010 08:05:51PM Permalink

'One day when I was a junior medical student, a very important Boston surgeon visited the school and delivered a great treatise on a large number of patients who had undergone successful operations for vascular reconstruction.

At the end of the lecture, a young student at the back of the room timidly asked, “Do you have any controls?” Well, the great surgeon drew himself up to his full height, hit the desk, and said, “Do you mean did I not operate on half the patients?” The hall grew very quiet then. The voice at the back of the room very hesitantly replied, “Yes, that’s what I had in mind.” Then the visitor’s fist really came down as he thundered, “Of course not. That would have doomed half of them to their death.”

God, it was quiet then, and one could scarcely hear the small voice ask, “Which half?”'

Dr. E. E. Peacock, Jr., quoted in Medical World News (September 1, 1972), p. 45, as quoted in Tufte's 1974 book Data Analysis for Politics and Policy; http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/12/the-ethics-of-random-clinical-trials.html

15 points Steve_Rayhawk 15 June 2009 12:21:54AM Permalink

Practically anything can go faster than Disc light, which is lazy and tame, unlike ordinary light. The only thing known to go faster than ordinary light is monarchy, according to the philosopher Ly Tin Wheedle. He reasoned like this: you can't have more than one king, and tradition demands that there is no gap between kings, so when a king dies the succession must therefore pass to the heir instantaneously. Presumably, he said, there must be some elementary particles—kingons, or possibly queons—that do this job, but of course succession sometimes fails if, in mid-flight, they strike an anti-particle, or republicon. His ambitious plans to use his discovery to send messages, involving the careful torturing of a small king in order to modulate the signal, were never fully expounded because, at that point, the bar closed.

-- Terry Pratchett, Mort, on mind-projection fallacy intuitions (and/or on Jack Sarfatti's theories of superluminal signaling)

15 points wuwei 04 July 2009 02:33:44AM Permalink

There is a mathematical style in which proofs are presented as strings of unmotivated tricks that miraculously do the job, but we found greater intellectual satisfaction in showing how each next step in the argument, if not actually forced, is at least something sweetly reasonable to try. Another reason for avoiding [pulling] rabbits [out of the magicians's hat] as much as possible was that we did not want to teach proofs, we wanted to teach proof design. Eventually, expelling rabbits became another joy of my professional life.

-- Edsger Dijkstra

Edit: Added context to "rabbits" in brackets.

15 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 August 2009 04:07:44AM Permalink

Freedom is understood in contrast to its various opposites. I can be free as opposed to being presently coerced. I can be free as opposed to being under some other person's general control. I can be free as opposed to being subject to delusions or insanity. I can be free as opposed to being ruled by the state in denial of ordinary personal liberties. I can be free as opposed to being in jail or prison. I can be free as opposed to living under unusually heavy personal obligations. I can be free as opposed to being burdened by bias or prejudice. I can even be free (or free spirited) as opposed to being governed by ordinary social conventions. The question that needs to be asked, and which hardly ever is asked, is whether I can be free as opposed to being causally determined. Given that some kind of causal determinism is presupposed in the very concept of human action, it would be odd if this were so. Why does anyone think that it is?

-- David Hill

15 points Patrick 23 October 2009 12:33:43AM Permalink

"Thus Aristotle laid it down that a heavy object falls faster than a light one does. The important thing about this idea is not that he was wrong, but that it never occurred to Aristotle to check it." Albert Szent-Györgyi de Nagyrápolt, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

15 points RichardKennaway 22 October 2009 11:51:02PM Permalink

"Everything is open to questioning. That does not mean all answers are equally valid."

-- Kelvin Throop

15 points loqi 22 October 2009 05:31:07PM Permalink

Perfecting oneself is as much unlearning as it is learning.

-- Edsger Dijkstra

15 points RobinZ 29 November 2009 11:57:11PM Permalink

"My style" sure makes a great crutch for putting off learning how to draw better, doesn't it?

Egypt "peganthyrus" Urnash, comment thread, a quick drawing lesson, July 17, 2008

15 points Cyan 07 January 2010 09:17:15PM Permalink

This conception of debate as combat is, in fact, probably the main reason why the Social Text editors fell for my parody. Acting not as intellectuals seeking the truth, but as self-appointed generals in the "Science Wars'', they apparently leapt at the chance to get a "real'' scientist on their "side''. Now, ruing their blunder, they must surely feel a kinship with the Trojans.

But the military metaphor is a mistake; the Social Text editors are not my enemies.

- Alan Sokal (hat tip)

15 points Warrigal 13 February 2010 01:32:32AM Permalink

"You don't use science to show that you're right, you use science to become right." --Randall Munroe, in the alt-text of xkcd 701

15 points Tom_Talbot 01 February 2010 07:11:06PM Permalink

"If the tool you have is a hammer, make the problem look like a nail."

Steven W. Smith, The Scientist and Engineers Guide to Digital Signal Processing

15 points roland 03 March 2010 05:43:15AM Permalink

...in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

-- Herbert Simon 1971

15 points Matt_Duing 02 March 2010 03:47:45AM Permalink

"It is said that those who appreciate legislation and sausages should not see them being made. The same is true for human emotions." -- Steven Pinker

15 points Rain 01 April 2010 08:47:27PM Permalink

If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.

-- Jack Handey's Deep Thoughts

15 points teageegeepea 02 September 2010 02:13:29AM Permalink

I've linked to a quote from Daniel Ellsberg at Overcoming Bias, but it seemed relevant enough here to excerpt the bits that caught my eye:

First, you'll be exhilarated by some of this new information, and by having it all — so much! incredible! — suddenly available to you. But second, almost as fast, you will feel like a fool for having studied, written, talked about these subjects, criticized and analyzed decisions made by presidents for years without having known of the existence of all this information, which presidents and others had and you didn't, and which must have influenced their decisions in ways you couldn't even guess

[...]

you will forget there ever was a time when you didn't have it, and you'll be aware only of the fact that you have it now and most others don't....and that all those other people are fools

[...]

you'll eventually become aware of the limitations of this information [...] But that takes a while to learn. In the meantime it will have become very hard for you to learn from anybody who doesn't have these clearances. Because you'll be thinking as you listen to them: 'What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know? Would he be giving me the same advice, or would it totally change his predictions and recommendations?' And that mental exercise is so torturous that after a while you give it up and just stop listening.

[...]

You will deal with a person who doesn't have those clearances only from the point of view of what you want him to believe and what impression you want him to go away with, since you'll have to lie carefully to him about what you know. In effect, you will have to manipulate him. You'll give up trying to assess what he has to say. The danger is, you'll become something like a moron. You'll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours.

15 points Nisan 10 November 2010 08:02:18PM Permalink

Know the hair you have to get the hair you want.

-Pantene Pro-V hair care bottle

15 points Hariant 03 November 2010 05:21:09AM Permalink

Getting caught up in style and throwing away victory is something for the lower ranks to do. Captains can't even think about doing such a carefree thing. Don't try to be a good guy. It doesn't matter who owes who. From the instant they enter into a war, both sides are evil.

Related to: Politics, Protection

15 points Automaton 03 December 2010 07:42:32AM Permalink

“On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.”

--Nietzsche

14 points benthamite 18 April 2009 10:00:18PM Permalink

I wish to propose for the reader’s favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.

Bertrand Russell, ‘Introduction’, in Sceptical Essays, London, 1928

14 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 April 2009 01:27:08AM Permalink

You cannot improve the world just by being right.

-- Confusion, Why functional programming doesnt catch on

14 points sparrowsfall 20 May 2009 03:11:31PM Permalink

"From the inside, ideology usually looks like common sense."

--John Quiggin

http://crookedtimber.org/2009/04/22/the-ideology-that-dare-not-speak-its-name/

14 points RichardKennaway 15 June 2009 12:06:21PM Permalink

"Your superior intellects are no match for our puny weapons!"

(Variously attributed. TV Tropes says the Simpsons.)

Also variously interpreted. I take it as a caution against forgetting to actually win with one's towering genius.

14 points RichardKennaway 15 June 2009 05:48:24AM Permalink

"The seeker after the truth is not one who studies the writings of the ancients and, following his natural disposition, puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration, and not to the sayings of a human being whose nature is fraught with all kinds of imperfection and deficiency. Thus the duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and, applying his mind to the core and margins of its content, attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency."

-- Alhazen (Abū Alī al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haitham)

14 points Lightwave 14 June 2009 11:18:30PM Permalink

"The lottery is a tax on those incapable of basic math."

-- Ambrose Bierce

14 points MBlume 04 July 2009 10:30:45PM Permalink

"I'm writing a book on magic," I explain, and I'm asked, "Real magic?" By real magic people mean miracles, thaumaturgical acts, and supernatural powers. "No," I answer. "Conjuring tricks, not real magic."

Real magic, in other words, refers to the magic that is not real, while the magic that is real, that can actually be done, is not real magic.

-from Net of Magic, by Lee Siegel

14 points JohannesDahlstrom 02 July 2009 10:02:28PM Permalink

The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head.

-- Terry Pratchett, 'Hogfather'

14 points roland 22 October 2009 07:12:43PM Permalink

People often lack the discipline to adhere to a superior strategy that doesn't "feel" right. Reasoning in a way that sometimes "feels" wrong takes discipline.

-- Michael Bishop, Epistemology and the psychology of human judgement

14 points Kaj_Sotala 01 December 2009 01:50:04PM Permalink

As a rule, people judged themselves according to their intentions and others according to results. In study after study, individuals ranked themselves as more charitable, more compassionate, more conscientious than others, not because they in fact were - but because they wanted to be these things and were almost entirely blind to the fact that others wanted the same. Intentions were all important when it came to self-judgement, and pretty much irrelevant when it came to judging others. The only exceptions, it turned out, were loved ones.

That was what it meant to be a 'significant' other: to be included in the circle of delusions that everyone used to exempt themselves.

-- Scott Bakker, Neuropath

14 points Sniffnoy 14 February 2010 07:15:51AM Permalink

On parsimony:

If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.

--John von Neumann, at the first national meeting of the Association for Computing Machinery

14 points Shalmanese 02 February 2010 09:47:05AM Permalink

"In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it." GK Chesterton

14 points dclayh 01 February 2010 10:50:42PM Permalink

That is not dead which can eternal lie,/ And with strange aeons even Death may die.

—H.P. Lovecraft, clearly talking about cryonic preservation

14 points gregconen 01 February 2010 05:50:19PM Permalink

More people are killed every year by pigs than by sharks, which shows you how good people are at evaluating risk.

Bruce Schneier

14 points bogus 01 February 2010 03:58:08PM Permalink

If [Ayn] Rand really wanted to build an individualist sub-culture, she would have done so in an evolutionarily informed way. If people naturally care about the opinions of others, jumping on people is a good way to get dishonest conformity, but a bad way to get an honest exchange of ideas. Instead, an individualist sub-culture must be built upon tolerance and honesty. I'd suggest three key norms:

  1. Don't think less of people who sincerely disagree.
  2. Do think less of people who insincerely agree.
  3. Do think less of people who think less of people who sincerely disagree.

--Bryan Caplan

Reference: Guardians of Ayn Rand

14 points Yvain 01 February 2010 12:24:51PM Permalink

In our public medical personas, we often act as though morality consisted only in following society's conventions: we do this not so much out of laziness but because we recognize that it is better that the public think of doctors as old-fashioned or stupid, than that they should think us evil.

-- The Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine

14 points anonym 01 February 2010 06:50:31AM Permalink

Million-to-one odds happen eight times a day in New York.

Penn Jillette

14 points steven0461 02 March 2010 11:51:17PM Permalink

The man who lies to others has merely hidden away the truth, but the man who lies to himself has forgotten where he put it.

old Arab proverb, according to this page, which is itself interesting

14 points RichardKennaway 01 March 2010 08:56:57PM Permalink

"There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you."

-- J.K. Rowling, Harvard commencement address.

14 points komponisto 01 April 2010 09:39:48PM Permalink

What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

-- Christopher Hitchens

14 points Seth_Goldin 03 June 2010 03:40:44AM Permalink

There is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life.

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

He seems to have understood that 0 and 1 are not probabilities.

14 points Matt_Duing 02 June 2010 04:03:17AM Permalink

"It's wonderful how much we suck compared to us ten years from now!"

-- Michael Blume

14 points Houshalter 01 June 2010 08:29:38PM Permalink

It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.

Another Twain quote.

14 points torekp 03 July 2010 11:36:36AM Permalink

Idealists of all schools, aristocrats and bourgeois, theologians and physicians, politicians and moralists, religionists, philosophers, or poets, not forgetting the liberal economists - unbounded worshippers of the ideal, as we know - are much offended when told that man, with his magnificent intelligence, his sublime ideas, and his boundless aspirations, is, like all else existing in the world, nothing but matter, only a product of vile matter.

We may answer that the matter of which materialists speak, matter spontaneously and eternally mobile, active, productive, matter chemically or organically determined and manifested by the properties or forces, mechanical, physical, animal, and intelligent, which necessarily belong to it - that this matter has nothing in common with the vile matter of the idealists. The latter, a product of their false abstraction, is indeed a stupid, inanimate, immobile thing, incapable of giving birth to the smallest product, a caput mortuum, an ugly fancy in contrast to the beautiful fancy which they call God; as the opposite of this supreme being, matter, their matter, stripped by that constitutes its real nature, necessarily represents supreme nothingness.

--Mikhail Bakunin, God and the State

Reminded me of some posts here by Academician.

14 points Kobayashi 06 October 2010 11:28:21PM Permalink

"You can always reach me through my blog!" he panted. "Overpowering Falsehood dot com, the number one site for rational thinking about the future--"

  • Zendegi, by Greg Egan (2010)

Go ahead, down-vote me. It's still paradoxically-awesome to be burned in a Greg Egan novel...

14 points XiXiDu 04 November 2010 12:37:19PM Permalink

This is a bit long for a rationality quote and isn't really a quote but short enough and worth the read: The most poetic and convincing argument for striving for posthumanity (via aleph.se).

14 points Perplexed 03 November 2010 02:54:38AM Permalink

David Hume was right to predict that superstition would survive for hundreds of years after his death, but how could he have anticipated that his own work would inspire Kant to invent a whole new package of superstitions? Or that the incoherent system of Marx would move vast populations to engineer their own ruin? Or that the infantile rantings of the author of Mein Kampf would be capable of bringing the whole world to war?

Perhaps we will one day succeed in immunizing our societies against such bouts of collective idiocy by establishing a social contract in which each child is systematically instructed in Humean skepticism. Such a new Emile would learn about the psychological weaknesses to which Homo sapiens is prey, and so would understand the wisdom of treating all authorities - political leaders and social role-models, academics and teachers, philosophers and prophets, poets and pop stars - as so many potential rogues and knoves, each out to exploit the universal human hunger for social status. He would therefore appreciate the necessity of doing all of his own thinking for himself. He would understand why and when to trust his neighbors. Above all, he would waste no time yearning for utopias that are incompatible with human nature.

-- Ken Binmore, in Natural Justice, p56

14 points jaimeastorga2000 02 November 2010 08:42:37PM Permalink

For to be possessed of a vigorous mind is not enough; the prime requisite is rightly to apply it. The greatest minds, as they are capable of the highest excellences, are open likewise to the greatest aberrations; and those who travel very slowly may yet make far greater progress, provided they keep always to the straight road, than those who, while they run, forsake it.

~René Descartes, Discourse on the Method

14 points Lightwave 03 December 2010 09:09:36AM Permalink

"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin."

-- Charles Darwin

13 points gjm 19 April 2009 01:07:40AM Permalink

Most things are, in fact, slippery slopes. And if you start backing off from one thing because it's a slippery slope, who knows where you'll stop?

Sean M Burke

13 points dreeves 18 April 2009 08:12:26PM Permalink

"Faced with the choice of changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." -- John Kenneth Galbraith

13 points Yvain 15 June 2009 09:24:40AM Permalink

"Imagine a world where everything changes to match the state of your mind, where evidence never pushes back against your theories, where your every thought is correct simply because you think it so. Can there be any better definition of hell for a man of learning? "

-- Bradeline, Fall From Heaven

13 points hrishimittal 03 July 2009 03:10:10PM Permalink

...you have to make a conscious effort to keep your ideas about what you want from being contaminated by what seems possible.This is isomorphic to the principle that you should prevent your beliefs about how things are from being contaminated by how you wish they were. Most people let them mix pretty promiscuously. The continuing popularity of religion is the most visible index of that.

-- pg

13 points KatjaGrace 03 July 2009 07:03:33AM Permalink

"Philosophy triumphs easily over past and future evils; but present evils triumph over it."

-- Francois de La Rochefoucauld

13 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 August 2009 03:50:52AM Permalink

Consequentialism: The belief that doing the right thing makes the world a better place.

-- DanielLC

13 points Kaj_Sotala 02 September 2009 05:59:39PM Permalink

"You can safely say that you have made God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." -- Reverend Robert Cromey

13 points Zack_M_Davis 07 January 2010 09:50:16AM Permalink

2 + 3 = 5, 3 + 2 = 5, 5 - 2 =3, and 5 - 3 = 2 are not four facts, but four different ways of looking at one fact. Furthermore, that fact is not a fact of arithmetic, to be taken on faith and memorized like nonsense syllables. It is a fact of nature, which children can discover for themselves, and rediscover or verify for themselves as many times as they need or want to.

The fact is this:

***** -- *** **

If you have before you a group of objects--coins or stones, for example---that looks like the group on the left, then you can make it into two groups that look like the ones on the right. Or--and this is what the two-way arrow means---if you have two groups that look like the ones on the right, you can make them into a group that looks like the one on the left.

This is not a fact of arithmetic, but a fact of nature. It did not become true only when human beings invented arithmetic. It has nothing to do with human beings. It is true all over the universe. One doesn't have to know any arithmetic to discover or verify it. An infant playing with blocks or a dog pawing at sticks might do that operation, though probably neither of them would notice that he had done it; for them, the difference between ***** and *** ** would be a difference that didn't make any difference. Arithmetic began (and begins) when human beings began to notice and think about this and other numerical facts of nature.

----John Holt, Learning All the Time

13 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 February 2010 12:40:01AM Permalink

The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to close it again on something solid.

-- G.K. Chesterton

13 points RichardKennaway 01 February 2010 10:13:36AM Permalink

"We can get very confused, because we think that words must have some secret meaning that we have to figure out. They don't. They are just noises or marks, and they mean whatever experience you have learned to mean by them. People tend to use similar words in similar situations, but unless you have specifically agreed on what the words will mean, in terms of underlying experiences, there's no way to know what another person understands when you use them. The experience you attach to a word when you say it isn't automatically the same as the experience another person attaches to the same word when hearing it."

William T. Powers

13 points RobinZ 01 April 2010 11:33:04PM Permalink

Blind alley, though. If someone's ungrateful and you tell him he's ungrateful, okay, you've called him a name. You haven't solved anything.

Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

13 points RichardKennaway 01 April 2010 10:03:17PM Permalink

It is always advisable to perceive clearly our ignorance.

Charles Darwin, "The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals", ch.3.

13 points NancyLebovitz 02 May 2010 11:02:28AM Permalink

Discussion of how not to get lost in the woods

Arg, this post is bringing back memories of all kinds of backcountry stupidity (including a fair amount of my own stupidity), so I can't resist adding a comment about GPS devices. Any navigation tool -- GPS device, map, compass, sextant, whatever -- only works if you are using the navigation tool to relate yourself to the surrounding landscape. And you should never trust maps, GPS devices, compasses, or any tool if it contradicts what you're seeing in the surrounding landscape. I own a top-notch brand of GPS device, I got a top-quality map to go inside it, and when I checked the map against a landscape I knew well, I found error after error (which is true with all maps, by the way; one of the reasons I like paper maps is that I can make notations on it when I find errors).

13 points RobinZ 01 May 2010 01:21:51PM Permalink

Edit: DUPLICATE

"Then the one called Raltariki is really a demon?" asked Tak.

"Yes—and no," said Yama. "If by 'demon' you mean a malefic, supernatural creature, possessed of great powers, life span, and the ability to temporarily assume virtually any shape—then the answer is no. This is the generally accepted definition, but it is untrue in one respect."

"Oh? And what may that be?"

"It is not a supernatural creature."

"But it is all those other things?"

"Yes."

"Then I fail to see what difference it makes whether it be supernatural or not—so long as it is malefic, possesses great powers and life span and has the ability to change its shape at will."

"Ah, but it makes a great deal of difference, you see. It is the difference between the unknown and the unknowable, between science and fantasy—it is a matter of essence. The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom and the unknown. Some bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable. The man who bows in that final direction is either a saint or a fool. I have no use for either."

Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light. (h/t zhurnaly)

13 points JoshuaZ 01 June 2010 07:42:42PM Permalink

Were it possible to trace the succession of ideas in the mind of Sir Isaac Newton, during the time that he made his greatest discoveries, I make no doubt but our amazement at the extent of his genius would a little subside. But if, when a man publishes his discoveries, he either through a design, or through habit, omit the intermediary steps by which he himself arrived at them, it is no wonder that his speculations confound them, and that the generality of mankind stand amazed at his reach of thought. If a man ascend to the top of a building by the help of a common ladder, but cut away most of the steps after he has done with them, leaving only every ninth of tenth step, the view of the ladder, in the condition which he has pleased to exhibit it, gives us a prodigious, but unjust view of the man who could have made use of it. But if he had intended that any body should follow him, he should have left the ladder as he constructed it, or perhaps as he found it, for it might have been a mere accident that threw it in his way... I think that the interests of science have suffered by the excessive admiration and wonder with which several first rate philosophers are considered, and that an opinion of the greater equality of mankind, in point of genius, and power of understanding, would be of real service in the present age." - Joseph Priestly, The History and present State of Electricity

The section where I've added an ellipsis is a section where he discusses Newton in more detail. That entire part of the text is worth reading. Priestly wrote the book before he did his work on the composition of air. The book is, as far as I am aware, the first attempt at actual history of science. (I'm meaning to read the whole thing at some point, but the occasionally archaic grammar makes for slow reading.)

13 points josht 08 July 2010 09:30:39AM Permalink

A recent one from Linux Weekly News that gives insight into rationality:

Side note: when a respected information source covers something where you have on-the-ground experience, the result is often to make you wonder how much fecal matter you've swallowed in areas outside your own expertise. -- Rusty Russell

13 points brazzy 02 July 2010 09:37:53AM Permalink

The necessity for marking our classes has brought with it a bias for false and excessive contrast, and we never invent a term but we are at once cramming it with implications beyond its legitimate content. There is no feat of irrelevance that people will not perform quite easily in this way; there is no class, however accidental, to which they will not at once ascribe deeply distinctive qualities. The seventh sons of seventh sons have remarkable powers of insight; people with a certain sort of ear commit crimes of violence; people with red hair have souls of fire; all democratic socialists are trustworthy persons; all people born in Ireland have vivid imaginations and all Englishmen are clods; all Hindoos are cowardly liars; all curly-haired people are good-natured; all hunch-backs are energetic and wicked, and all Frenchmen eat frogs. Such stupid generalisations have been believed with the utmost readiness, and acted upon by great numbers of sane, respectable people. And when the class is one's own class, when it expresses one of the aggregations to which one refers one's own activities, then the disposition to divide all qualities between this class and its converse, and to cram one's own class with every desirable distinction, becomes overwhelming.

-- H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia

13 points Rain 02 July 2010 12:06:30AM Permalink

A superstition is a premature explanation that overstays its time.

-- George Iles

13 points sketerpot 04 August 2010 07:10:17PM Permalink

If you do experiments and you're always right, then you aren't getting enough information out of those experiments. You want your experiment to be like the flip of a coin: You have no idea if it is going to come up heads or tails. You want to not know what the results are going to be.

-- Peter Norvig, in an interview about being wrong. When I saw this, I thought it sounded a lot like entropy pruning in decision trees, where you don't even bother asking questions that won't make you update your probability estimates significantly. Then I remembered that Norvig was the co-author of the AI textbook that I had learned about decision trees from. Interesting interview.

13 points Apprentice 06 October 2010 10:47:42AM Permalink

If I close my mind in fear, please pry it open.

-- Metallica

13 points Unnamed 05 October 2010 08:48:57PM Permalink

God, grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.

-- adapted from Reinhold Niebuhr

Is this a piece of traditional deep wisdom that's actually wise?

13 points aausch 04 November 2010 03:17:11AM Permalink

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."

— T.H. White (The Once and Future King)

12 points anonym 15 June 2009 02:18:22AM Permalink

Knowing that one may be subject to bias is one thing; being able to correct it is another.

Jon Elster

12 points JustinShovelain 02 July 2009 10:55:13PM Permalink

Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way the car is driven.

-- Edward de Bono

12 points SilasBarta 02 July 2009 08:39:51PM Permalink

"An economic transaction is a solved political problem."

--Abba Lerner

12 points Rain 01 September 2009 11:52:15PM Permalink

I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and just because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

-Helen Keller

12 points RobinZ 22 October 2009 04:45:27PM Permalink

There is an unfortunate optical illusion - a variant on the Doppler effect - that besets all frauds. It's unfortunate, because it has the effect of exacerbating the pecuniary losses that fraud victims endure, by unfairly leaving them, like many rape victims, irrationally ashamed of themselves.

The Doppler principle we posit holds that as a victim approaches a swindler, he sees nothing but green lights. But as soon as he realizes that his money is gone, he spins around and beholds, as if by magic, bright red flags as far as the eye can see.

-- Roger Parloff, senior editor, "More brazen than Madoff?", Fortune, 2009-03-31

12 points ABranco 01 December 2009 03:52:12AM Permalink

I will repeat this point again until I get hoarse: a mistake is not something to be determined after the fact, but in the light of the information until that point. —Nicholas Nassim Taleb

12 points MichaelGR 30 November 2009 12:22:38AM Permalink

"Stressing output is the key to improving productivity, while looking to increase activity can result in just the opposite."

--Andrew S. Grove

12 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 November 2009 11:42:44PM Permalink

"Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of "world history," but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist. And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened."

-- Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense

12 points RichardKennaway 09 January 2010 09:39:30AM Permalink

"You cannot understand what a person is saying unless you understand who they are arguing with."

-- Don Symons, quoted by Tooby and Cosmides.

12 points Rain 07 January 2010 11:37:36PM Permalink

A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

-- Alexander Pope

12 points Unnamed 07 January 2010 05:33:41PM Permalink

"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"

-- attributed to George Carlin

12 points Rain 01 February 2010 12:42:53PM Permalink

O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

-- Mark Twain, excerpt from The War Prayer

12 points ABranco 01 March 2010 11:50:20PM Permalink

A touchstone to determine the actual worth of an "intellectual" — find out how he feels about astrology. —Robert Heinlein

12 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 March 2010 04:02:57PM Permalink

I haven't taken this position just to be difficult. To look around, the world does appear to be flat, so I think it is incumbent on others to prove decisively that it isn't. And I don't think that burden of proof has been met yet.

-- Daniel Shenton, President of the Flat Earth Society as of 2010

12 points AlexMennen 05 April 2010 06:06:58AM Permalink

An atheist walked into a bar, but seeing no bartender he revised his initial assumption and decided he only walked into a room.

http://friendlyatheist.com/2008/02/29/complete-the-atheist-joke-1/

12 points djcb 02 April 2010 12:20:39PM Permalink

The white line down the center of the road is a mediator, and very likely it can err substantially towards one side the other before the disadvantaged side finds advantage in denying its authority.

Source:

-- Schelling, Strategy of conflict, p144

[The book was mentioned a couple of times here on LW, and is a nice introduction to the use of game theory in geopolitics]

12 points sketerpot 03 May 2010 07:52:24PM Permalink

"I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to misattribute it to Voltaire."

-Voltaire

(The phrase was written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall as a summary of Voltaire's attitude toward free speech. Since then, people started attributing it to Voltaire himself, and the myth has spread far and wide, as nobody really checks to see if he actually said that. Hearing something somewhere is plenty of evidence for most people, most of the time, and the conviction gets more solid over time. Which brings me to my second rationality quote, from Winston Churchill: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.")

12 points anonym 02 May 2010 03:08:13AM Permalink

There will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents of all the variant systems within the epoch unconsciously presuppose. Such assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know what they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them. With these assumptions a certain limited number of types of philosophic systems are possible, and this group of systems constitutes the philosophy of the epoch.

-- Alfred North Whitehead

12 points mattnewport 03 June 2010 06:43:52PM Permalink

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, again. Then quit. There's no use in being a damn fool about it.

-- W. C. Fields

12 points roland 01 June 2010 06:30:07PM Permalink

Conscious thought leads people to put disproportionate weight on attributes that are accessible, plausible and easy to verbalize, and therefore too little weight on other attributes. -- Ap Dijksterhuis

12 points RichardKennaway 02 July 2010 06:50:00AM Permalink

Silas will like this one:

Menahem sighed. 'How can one explain colours to a blind man?'

'One says', snapped Rek, 'that red is like silk, blue is like cool water, and yellow is like sunshine on the face.'

-- David Gemmell "Legend"

12 points Kazuo_Thow 01 July 2010 10:02:12PM Permalink

This is what fascinates me most in existence: the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.

-- Philip Gourevitch

12 points simplicio 04 August 2010 05:32:50AM Permalink

On rationalization, aka the giant sucking cognitive black hole.

Though [Ben Franklin] had been a vegetarian on principle, on one long sea crossing the men were grilling fish, and his mouth started watering:

I balanc'd some time between principle and inclination, till I recollectd that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, "if you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you." So I din'd upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet.

Franklin concluded: "So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for every thing one has a mind to do."

-Jonathan Haidt, "The Happiness Hypothesis"

12 points Rain 03 August 2010 12:48:23PM Permalink

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity.

-- Christopher Morley

12 points RichardKennaway 03 August 2010 07:54:49AM Permalink

When I was a young man about to go out into the world, my father says to me a very valuable thing. He says to me like this... "Son," the old guy says, "I am sorry that I am not able to bank roll you to a very large start, but not having any potatoes which to give you, I am now going to stake you to some very valuable advice. One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to come to you and show you a nice, brand new deck of cards on which the seal has not yet been broken. This man is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. Now son, do not bet this man, for as sure as you stand there, you are going to wind up with an earful of cider."

-- Sky Masterson, a character in Guys and Dolls

12 points sark 07 September 2010 03:52:55AM Permalink

House: There's never any proof. Five different doctors come up with five different diagnoses based on the same evidence.

Cuddy: You don't have any evidence. And nobody knows anything, huh? How is it you always think you're right?

House: I don't. I just find it hard to operate on the opposite assumption.

12 points Craig_Heldreth 02 September 2010 05:59:17PM Permalink

It is often said that experiments should be made without preconceived ideas. This is impossible.

--Henri Poincare, Science and Hypothesis.

12 points RolfAndreassen 05 October 2010 06:09:40PM Permalink

"Ideas are tested by experiment." That is the core of science. All else is bookkeeping.

12 points Morendil 05 October 2010 11:40:36AM Permalink

The suggestion that designers should record their wrong decisions, to avoid having them repeated, met the following response: (McClure:) "Confession is good for the soul..." (d’Agapeyeff:) "...but bad for your career."

-- Proceedings of the 1968 NATO Conference on Software Engineering

12 points MBlume 11 November 2010 02:12:02AM Permalink

When I was halfway through my Ph.D. I formulated a hypothesis: The proximate challenge that keeps you from graduating is that you have to write a thesis. But the ultimate challenge to getting your Ph.D. is this: You somehow have to learn to understand, deep down, that all your romantic notions about the Ph.D. are bunk, that you will be exactly the same person on the day after you get it that you were the day before, and that you need to stop waiting for the day when you feel like a god and just write something down and get on with life.

It may take you years to accept this, and it may drive you to drink, but after you get to that point you can graduate.

Only then will you be able to live with the fact that your thesis looks like crap to you. Your thesis will always look like crap to you. Either you will have figured out absolutely everything and your thesis will look incredibly boring to you, because you've moved on, or -- vastly more likely -- your thesis will look woefully incomplete because, geez, there is so much that you couldn't figure out, and you're just so stupid!

Or, most likely of all, you will think both of these things at the same time.

Similarly: Being the world's foremost expert on a particular scientific problem is a lot less exciting in real life than it seems in the movies. In fact, being on the frontier of science feels like being totally, hopelessly lost and confused. Why this came as a surprise to me I'll never know.

--mechanical_fish on Hacker News. Emphasis mine. source

12 points MichaelGR 06 November 2010 05:09:59PM Permalink

A horse that can count to ten is a remarkable horse, not a remarkable mathematician.

--Samuel Johnson

12 points MichaelGR 04 November 2010 09:10:40PM Permalink

It is a profound and necessary truth that the deep things in science are not found because they are useful, they are found because it was possible to find them. -J. Robert Oppenheimer.

12 points RichardKennaway 03 December 2010 09:15:01PM Permalink

"When I start to wonder if black swans exist, I put down my copy of Mind and pick up my copy of Nature."

-- Ariadne (former columnist in New Scientist).

11 points caiuscamargarus 19 April 2009 12:01:05AM Permalink

Ludwig Wittgenstein: Why do people say that it was natural to think that the sun went round the earth rather than that the earth turned on its axis?

Elizabeth Anscombe: I suppose, because it looked as if the sun went round the earth.

Ludwig Wittgenstein: Well what would it have looked like if it had looked as if the earth turned on its axis?

11 points Vladimir_Nesov 18 April 2009 10:26:10PM Permalink

One disadvantage of having a little intelligence is that one can invent myths out of his own imagination, and come to believe them. Wild animals, lacking imagination, almost never do disastrously stupid things out of false perceptions of the world about them. But humans create artificial disasters for themselves when their ideology makes them unable to perceive where their own self-interest lies.

-- E.T. Jaynes, Probability Theory as Logic [pdf].

11 points AndySimpson 18 April 2009 07:55:05PM Permalink

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.

--Aldous Huxley

11 points Rune 18 April 2009 06:42:02PM Permalink

"Science is interesting and if you don't agree, you can fuck off."

-- Richard Dawkins quoting a former editor of New Scientist magazine.

11 points badger 18 April 2009 04:48:59AM Permalink

Reason means truth, and those who are not governed by it take the chance that someday a sunken fact will rip the bottom out of their boat.

-- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr

11 points RichardKennaway 02 July 2009 10:45:38PM Permalink

The Mathemagician nodded knowingly and stroked his chin several times. "You'll find," he remarked gently, "that the only thing you can do easily is be wrong, and that's hardly worth the effort."

-- Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

11 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 July 2009 10:08:21PM Permalink

I don't know how many people I've met who hold beliefs like "in three card stud a four is more likely to come up after an eight than a six." What the fuck? Is the concept of random that hard to grasp?

-- Alphadominance

11 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 August 2009 03:52:00AM Permalink

I almost believe we are ghosts, all of us. It's not just what we inherit from our fathers and mothers that walks again in us - it's all sorts of dead old ideas and dead beliefs and things like that. They don't exactly live in us, but there they sit all the same and we can't get rid of them. All I have to do is pick up a newspaper, and I see ghosts lurking between the lines. I think there are ghosts everywhere you turn in this country - as many as there are grains of sand - and then there we all are, so abysmally afraid of the light.

-- Ibsen, 1881

11 points thomblake 01 September 2009 07:55:37PM Permalink

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

-Bertrand Russell

11 points anonym 01 September 2009 03:32:45PM Permalink

Reality is not optional.

Thomas Sowell

11 points ABranco 24 October 2009 03:59:33AM Permalink

Never underestimate the difficulty of changing false beliefs by facts. —Harvard economist Henry Rosovsky

11 points MichaelGR 08 January 2010 08:59:15PM Permalink

This problem affects a question close to Frances Kamm’s work: what she calls the Problem of Distance in Morality (PDM). Kamm says that her intuition consistently finds that moral obligations attach to things that are close to us, but not to thinks that are far away. According to her, if we see a child drowning in a pond and there’s a machine nearby which, for a dollar, will scoop him out, we’re morally obligated to give the machine a dollar. But if the machine is here but the scoop and child are on the other side of the globe, we don’t have to put a dollar in the machine. --Aaron Swartz

11 points Rain 07 January 2010 11:34:47PM Permalink

He must be very ignorant; for he answers every question he is asked.

-- Voltaire

11 points Zack_M_Davis 01 February 2010 06:38:17PM Permalink

'Cause it's gonna be the future soon

And I won't always be this way

When the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away

--Jonothan Coulton

11 points XiXiDu 01 February 2010 10:50:03AM Permalink

The introduction of suitable abstractions is our only mental aid to organize and master complexity.

-- Edsger W. Dijkstra

11 points RichardKennaway 01 February 2010 10:19:31AM Permalink

"People are not complicated. People are really very simple. What makes them appear complicated is our continual insistence on interpreting their behavior instead of discovering their goals."

-- Bruce Gregory

11 points Rain 01 March 2010 09:53:26PM Permalink

Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

11 points RichardKennaway 01 March 2010 08:57:20PM Permalink

"Successful zealots don't argue to win. They argue to move the goalposts and to make it appear sane to do so."

-- Seth Godin

11 points RichardKennaway 01 March 2010 08:56:04PM Permalink

"Death is the most terrible of all things; for it is the end, and nothing is thought to be any longer either good or bad for the dead."

-- Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

The halt can manage a horse,

the handless a flock,

The deaf be a doughty fighter,

To be blind is better than to burn on a pyre:

There is nothing the dead can do.

-- Havamal

11 points Bindbreaker 01 March 2010 08:07:19PM Permalink

"One thousand five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat... and fifteen minutes ago, you knew people were alone on this planet. Think about what you'll know tomorrow." -- Agent K, "Men in Black"

11 points gregconen 04 April 2010 04:52:19PM Permalink

Do not imagine that mathematics is hard and crabbed, and repulsive to common sense. It is merely the etherealization of common sense.

WIlliam Thomson, Lord Kelvin

11 points Nic_Smith 03 April 2010 02:55:18AM Permalink

I recall, for example, suggesting to a regular loser at a weekly poker game that he keep a record of his winnings and losses. His response was that he used to do so but had given up because it proved to be unlucky. - Ken Binmore, Rational Decisions

A side note: All three of the quotes I've posted are from Binmore's Rational Decisions, which I'm about a third of the way through and have found very interesting. It makes a great companion to Less Wrong -- and it's also quite quotable in spots.

11 points anonym 02 May 2010 03:09:37AM Permalink

Unfortunately for the good sense of mankind, the fact of their fallibility is far from carrying the weight in their practical judgment, which is always allowed to it in theory; for while every one well knows himself to be fallible, few think it necessary to take any precautions against their own fallibility, or admit the supposition that any opinion, of which they feel very certain, may be one of the examples of the error to which they acknowledge themselves to be liable.

-- John Stuart Mill

11 points Rain 01 May 2010 02:22:14PM Permalink

As a species we're fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?

-- Ollie, The Mist, 2007

11 points DanielVarga 06 June 2010 05:55:56AM Permalink

I imagine that if my friend finally came to the conclusion that he were a machine, he would be infinitely crestfallen. I think he would think: "My God! How Horrible! I am only a machine!" But if I should find out I were a machine, my attitude would be totally different. I would say: "How amazing! I never before realized that machines could be so marvelous!"

(Raymond Smullyan)

I have found it in an OB comment by Zubon, but it was never posted as a rationality quote.

11 points Daniel_Burfoot 02 June 2010 04:26:51AM Permalink

To a very great extent, the term science is reserved for fields that do progress in obvious ways. But does a field make progress because it is a science, or is it a science because it makes progress?

-Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

11 points DSimon 02 July 2010 10:25:36PM Permalink

When I was 14, my father was stationed in Japan. I went rock climbing with this kid from school. He fell and got injured, and I had to bring him to the hospital. We came in through the wrong entrance, and passed this guy in the hall. He was a janitor. My friend came down with an infection, and the doctors didn't know what to do. So they brought in the janitor. He was a doctor. And a Buraku - one of Japan's untouchables. His ancestors had been slaughterers, gravediggers. And this guy knew that he wasn't accepted by the staff, didn't even try. He didn't dress well. He didn't pretend to be one of them. People around that place didn't think he had anything they wanted, except when they needed him - because he was right, which meant that nothing else mattered. And they had to listen to him.

-- Dr. Greg House

11 points RichardKennaway 02 July 2010 06:48:51AM Permalink

I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.

-- Mark Twain, Old Times on the Mississippi

11 points RichardKennaway 03 August 2010 07:44:31AM Permalink

Man cannot understand the perfection and imperfections of his chosen art if he cannot see the value in other arts. Following rules only permits development up to a point in technique and then the student and artist has to learn more and seek further. It makes sense to study other arts as well as those of strategy. Who has not learned something more about themselves by watching the activities of others? To learn the sword study the guitar. To learn the fist study commerce. To just study the sword will make you narrow-minded and will not permit you to grow outward.

-- Musashi, "A Book of Five Rings"

11 points ata 05 September 2010 03:29:48AM Permalink

The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent, but if we can come to terms with the indifference, then our existence as a species can have genuine meaning. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

— Stanley Kubrick

11 points arch1 01 September 2010 08:32:17PM Permalink

A habit of basing convictions upon evidence, and of giving to them only that degree of certainty which the evidence warrants, would, if it became general, cure most of the ills from which the world is suffering. (Bertrand Russell)

11 points brazzy 01 September 2010 08:05:25AM Permalink

The art of ignoring is one of the accomplishments of every well-bred girl, so carefully instilled that at last she can even ignore her own thoughts and her own knowledge.

-- H.G. Wells, Ann Veronica

11 points Jayson_Virissimo 01 September 2010 07:50:13AM Permalink

There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped.

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

11 points Yvain 07 October 2010 07:07:18PM Permalink

A neighbor came to Nasrudin, asking to borrow his donkey. "It is out on loan," the teacher replied. At that moment, the donkey brayed loudly inside the stable. "But I can hear it bray, over there." "Whom do you believe," asked Nasrudin, "me or a donkey?"

-- old Sufi parable

11 points Vladimir_M 06 October 2010 10:49:54PM Permalink

Prompted by the discussion of Sam Harriss idea that science should provide for a universal moral code, I thought of this suitable reply given long ago:

[The] doctrine of right and wrong is perpetually disputed, both by the pen and the sword: whereas the doctrine of lines and figures is not so, because men care not in that subject what be truth, as a thing that crosses no man's ambition, profit, or lust. For I doubt not, but if it had been a thing contrary to any man's right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, that the three angles of a triangle should be equal to two angles of a square, that doctrine [would] have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of geometry suppressed, as far as he whom it concerned was able.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)

(It also provides for some interesting perspective on the current epistemological state of various academic fields that are taken seriously as a source of guidance for government policy.)

11 points komponisto 05 October 2010 07:02:24PM Permalink

In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

-- Bertrand Russell

(Quoted, in Italian translation, on p. 174 of Amanda Knox's appeal brief.)

11 points xamdam 03 November 2010 01:41:32PM Permalink

We're all puppets, Laurie. I'm just a puppet who can see the strings.

Dr. Manhattan (Watchmen)

11 points Alicorn 12 December 2010 03:31:23AM Permalink

"Look! Can your fortunetelling explain that?!"

"Ha! Can your science explain why it rains?"

"YES! Yes, it can!"

  • Avatar: the Last Airbender
11 points Rain 06 December 2010 03:06:16AM Permalink

Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.

-- Laurens Van der Post

11 points topynate 03 December 2010 06:20:06AM Permalink

"Empty arguments with words cannot (in any way) compare with a test which will show practical results."

Ma Jun, inventor or reinventor of the South Pointing Chariot and the differential gear.

11 points billswift 03 December 2010 05:15:07AM Permalink

"When in total ignorance, try anything and you will be less ignorant."

-- G.Harry Stine, A Matter of Metalaw

10 points badger 18 April 2009 04:43:33AM Permalink

The greatest enemy of truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived, and dishonest -- but the myth -- persistent, pervasive, and unrealistic.

-- John F. Kennedy

(For those interested, I'm pulling most of these quotes from Rational Choice in an Uncertain World by Robyn Dawes, which I just began)

10 points scav 20 May 2009 12:12:24PM Permalink

"The trouble with trying to be more stupid than you really are is that you very often succeed" - C.S.Lewis The Magician's Nephew

10 points jscn 16 June 2009 04:21:08AM Permalink

It's a wonderful thing to be clever, and you should never think otherwise, and you should never stop being that way. But what you learn, as you get older, is that there are a few million other people in the world all trying to be clever at the same time, and whatever you do with your life will certainly be lost - swallowed up in the ocean - unless you are doing it with like-minded people who will remember your contributions and carry them forward. That is why the world is divided into tribes.

-- Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age

I neglected to record from which character the quote came.

10 points NancyLebovitz 04 July 2009 02:44:55PM Permalink

From a href="http://ta-nehisicoates.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/07/the_practical_limits_of_knowledge.php#more"Ta Nehisi Coates/a:

blocikquoteBut I distrusted the whole game. Intuitively, I wonder about the honesty and proficiency of writers who opine on everything from Iran to education to drug policy to health care to cap and trade to race. Perhaps these people simply have more brains than me, but the catch-all nature of punditry, the need to speak on every policy topic as though one were an expert, is exactly what I hope to avoid./blockquote

10 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 July 2009 10:09:35PM Permalink

All truth is not, indeed, of equal importance; but if little violations are allowed, every violation will in time be thought little.

-- Samuel Johnson

10 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 July 2009 10:05:57PM Permalink

Defects of empirical knowledge have less to do with the ways we go wrong in philosophy than defects of character do: such things as the simple inability to shut up; determination to be thought deep; hunger for power; fear, especially the fear of an indifferent universe.

-- David Stove, What Is Wrong With Our Thoughts

10 points brian_jaress 02 July 2009 07:29:36PM Permalink

Censure yourself, never another. Do not discuss right and wrong.

-- Zengetsu

When I first saw this, I had a negative gut reaction. The second sentence especially bothered me. Over time, I've come to like it more. I'm now at the point of wanting to follow it but usually failing to do so.

Discussions here on [akrasia][] seem to focus on procrastination, but this is my own very close number two.

10 points ajayjetti 11 August 2009 11:17:10PM Permalink

Alice came to a fork in the road. "Which road do I take?" she asked. "Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire cat. "I don't know," Alice answered. "Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter." ~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

10 points Kaj_Sotala 10 August 2009 07:22:53PM Permalink

I forget if I've posted this before, but:

"I've noticed that the press tends to be quite accurate, except when they're writing on a subject I know something about." -- Keith F. Lynch

10 points Yvain 06 August 2009 05:57:38AM Permalink

[Mathematical methods of inference] literally have no content; long division can calculate miles per gallon, or it can calculate income per capita. The statistical tools of experimental psychology were borrowed from agronomy, where they were invented to gauge the effects of different fertilizers on crop yields. The tools work just fine in psychology, even though, as one psychological statistician wrote, "we do not deal in manure, at least not knowingly."

-- Steven Pinker, How The Mind Works

10 points XFrequentist 06 August 2009 03:25:20AM Permalink

Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there.

-- Richard Feynman The Character of Physical Law

10 points Rain 01 September 2009 10:49:34PM Permalink

Wisdom is not only to be acquired, but also to be utilized.

-Marcus Tullius Cicero

10 points anonym 24 October 2009 10:25:46PM Permalink

When I became convinced that the Universe is natural — that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light, and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world — not even in infinite space. I was free — free to think, to express my thoughts — free to live to my own ideal — free to live for myself and those I loved — free to use all my faculties, all my senses — free to spread imagination’s wings — free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope — free to judge and determine for myself — free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past — free from the popes and priests — free from all the “called” and “set apart” — free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies — free from the fear of eternal pain — free from the winged monsters of the night — free from devils, ghosts, and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought — no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings — no chains for my limbs — no lashes for my back — no fires for my flesh — no master’s frown or threat — no following another’s steps — no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.

And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave for the liberty of hand and brain — for the freedom of labor and thought — to those who fell in the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound with chains — to those who proudly mounted scaffold’s stairs — to those whose bones were crushed, whose flesh was scarred and torn — to those by fire consumed — to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.

— Robert G. Ingersoll

10 points ABranco 24 October 2009 03:13:44AM Permalink

It does not matter how frequently something succeeds if failure is too costly to bear. —Nicholas Nassim Taleb

(i.e.: don't forget to put, in your utility functions, the damn appropriate weight of those highly-improbable-but-high-negative-impact tragedies!)

10 points spriteless 23 October 2009 10:29:00PM Permalink

Since all things related to akrasia and self motivation are relevant here:

"As a final incentive before giving up a difficult task, try to imagine it successfully accomplished by someone you violently dislike." -K. Zenios

10 points righteousreason 30 November 2009 01:58:26AM Permalink

"But goodness alone is never enough. A hard, cold wisdom is required for goodness to accomplish good. Goodness without wisdom always accomplishes evil." - Robert Heinlein (SISL)

10 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 07 January 2010 11:43:13PM Permalink

If you’ve never broken the bed, you’re not experimenting enough.

-- Miss HT Psych

10 points Rain 07 January 2010 11:35:45PM Permalink

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.

-- Carl Sagan

10 points MatthewB 07 January 2010 02:06:09PM Permalink

People will torture their children with battery acid from time to time anyway -- and who among us hasn't wanted to kill and eat an albino? I sincerely hope that my "new atheist" colleagues are not so naive as to imagine that actual belief in magic might be the issue here. After all, it would be absurd to criticize witchcraft as unscientific, as this would ignore the primordial division between mythos and logos. Let me see if I have this straight: Belief in demons, the evil eye, and the medicinal value of a cannibal feast are perversions of the real witchcraft - -which is drenched with meaning, intrinsically wholesome, integral to our humanity, and here to stay. Do I have that right?

Sam Harriss reply to Karen Armstrong

10 points gregconen 01 February 2010 03:53:24PM Permalink

I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.

Johannes Kepler

10 points XiXiDu 01 February 2010 10:43:57AM Permalink

I'll start incorporating crazy counter-intuitive notions about the nature of the universe when the cold implacable hand of the universe starts shoving them down my throat, not before!

-- PZ Myers

10 points utilitymonster 08 May 2010 04:18:43PM Permalink

Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey..., without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.

--Samuel Johnson

10 points MichaelGR 01 May 2010 05:48:07PM Permalink

By definition, all but the last doomsday prediction is false. Yet it does not follow, as many seem to think, that all doomsday predictions must be false; what follow is only that all such predictions but one are false.

-Richard A. Posner, Catastrophe: Risk and Response, p. 13

10 points djcb 01 May 2010 01:56:11PM Permalink

Men ought to know that from nothing else but the brain comes joy, delights, laughter, and sports, and sorrows, griefs, despondency, and lamentations. And by this, in an especial manner, we acquire wisdom and knowledge, and see and hear and know what are foul and what are fair, what are bad and what are good, what are sweet, and what are unsavory. ... And by the same organ we become mad and delirious, and fears and terrors assail us. ... All these things we endure from the brain. ...In these ways I am of the opinion that the brain exercises the greatest power in the man.

-- Hippocrates, On the sacred disease (ca. 4th century BCE).

[ In this and other of his writings, Hippocrates shows such an incredible early sense for rationality and against superstition that was only rarely seen in the next 2000 after that -- and in addition, he was not just a armchair philosopher, he actually put these things is practice. So, hats off for Hippocrates, even when his medicine was not without faults of course...]

10 points Matt_Duing 02 June 2010 04:15:13AM Permalink

"Sanity is conforming your thoughts to reality. Conforming reality to your thoughts is creativity."

-- Unknown

10 points RichardKennaway 01 June 2010 08:45:00PM Permalink

A certain mother habitually rewards her small son with ice cream after he eats his spinach. What additional information would you need to be able to predict whether the child will: a. Come to love or hate spinach, b. Love or hate ice cream, or c. Love or hate Mother?

-- Gregory Bateson, "Steps to an Ecology of Mind"

10 points RichardKennaway 01 June 2010 07:56:25PM Permalink

Despite the fact that you arrived in this world with nothing but an unborn Buddha-mind, your partiality for yourselves now makes you want to have things move in your own way. You lose your temper, become contentious, and then you think, "I haven't lost my temper. That fellow won't listen to me. By being so unreasonable he has made me lose it." And so you fix belligerently on his words and end up transforming the valuable Buddha-mind into a fighting spirit. By stewing over this unimportant matter, making the thoughts churn over and over in your mind, you may finally get your way, but then you fail in your ignorance to realize that it was meaningless for you to concern yourself over such a matter.

From The Dharma Talks of Zen Master Bankei, translated by Norman Waddell. Quoted by Torkel Franzén as a perfect description of Usenet flamewars.

10 points roland 01 June 2010 06:28:21PM Permalink

Prevent all problems and get nothing done, or accept an allowable level of small problems and focus on the big things. --Timothy Ferriss

10 points Kaj_Sotala 08 July 2010 07:36:26PM Permalink

"Anyone who believes that the theory of evolution implies moral darwinism, and who also believes in the theory of gravity, has a moral duty to go jump off a cliff." -- Ari Rahikkala

10 points RichardKennaway 02 July 2010 06:59:22AM Permalink

A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than yesterday.

Jonathan Swift (also attributed to Pope)

I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.

Abraham Lincoln

10 points WrongBot 02 July 2010 12:49:10AM Permalink

Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.

George Box

10 points apophenia 09 October 2010 11:54:34PM Permalink

"Because this is the Internet, every argument was spun in a centrifuge instantly and reduced down into two wholly enraged, radically incompatible contingents, as opposed to the natural gradient which human beings actually occupy." -Tycho, Penny Arcade

10 points tim 06 October 2010 04:57:36AM Permalink

The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture "This is a pipe," I'd have been lying!

-- René Magritte, on his painting The Treachery of Images depicting a pipe with "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" ("This is not a pipe") written under it

10 points nazgulnarsil 09 December 2010 04:49:02PM Permalink

"Imagine being told you were made for a purpose, and that longevity and happiness are not in the list of design objectives." -David Eubanks, Life Artificial

10 points Kazuo_Thow 04 December 2010 06:03:10AM Permalink

The splitting of the atom has changed everything save the way men think, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.

-- Albert Einstein

9 points gjm 19 April 2009 01:10:57AM Permalink

Truth emerges much more readily from error than from confusion.

Francis Bacon

9 points dreeves 18 April 2009 08:07:10PM Permalink

"They laughed at Einstein. They laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown." -- Carl Sagan

9 points AndySimpson 18 April 2009 07:50:55PM Permalink

...natural selection built the brain to survive in the world and only incidentally to understand it at a depth greater than is needed to survive. The proper task of scientists is to diagnose and correct the misalignment.

-E. O. Wilson

9 points Rune 18 April 2009 06:31:26PM Permalink

"People will then often say, 'But surely it's better to remain an Agnostic just in case?' This, to me, suggests such a level of silliness and muddle that I usually edge out of the conversation rather than get sucked into it. (If it turns out that I've been wrong all along, and there is in fact a god, and if it further turned out that this kind of legalistic, cross-your-fingers-behind-your-back, Clintonian hair-splitting impressed him, then I think I would choose not to worship him anyway.)" -- Douglas Adams

9 points badger 18 April 2009 04:48:10AM Permalink

We consider ourselves distinguished from the ape by the power of thought. We do not remember that it is like the power of walking in the one-year-old. We think, it is true, but we think so badly that I often feel it would be better if we did not.

-- Bertrand Russell in Faith and Mountains

9 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 April 2009 01:25:42AM Permalink

I worry far more about the "promising" stock market, particularly the "safe" blue chip stocks, than I do about speculative ventures -- the former present invisible risks, the latter offer no surprises since you know how volatile they are and can limit your downside by investing smaller amounts... I am very aggressive when I can gain exposure to positive Black Swans -- when a failure would be of small moment -- and very conservative when I am under threat from a negative Black Swan. I am very aggressive when an error in a model can benefit me, and paranoid when an error can hurt.

-- Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan

9 points RichardKennaway 21 May 2009 06:37:44PM Permalink

Some people revel in complexity, and what's worse they have the brain power to deal with vast systems of arcane equations. This ability can be a handicap because it leads to overlooking simple solutions.

William T. Powers

9 points Cyan 21 May 2009 05:11:46AM Permalink

Truth comes out of error more readily than out of confusion.

-- Francis Bacon, Novum Organum (1620)

9 points komponisto 19 May 2009 08:29:01PM Permalink

Some people dream of great things. Others stay awake and do them.

-Poster found in school classrooms

(Anyone know the original source?)

9 points CronoDAS 17 June 2009 10:01:14PM Permalink

"Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons." - Michael Shermer

9 points HughRistik 15 June 2009 06:38:28PM Permalink

It's easy to put down the shallow concerns of life, but in a way they are what life is about. Deeper concerns that don't connect in any way to economic wealth, social status, physical pleasure, etc., are not really deep but pointless. The shallow concerns all pertain to the lowest common denominator of human life because they really are the basic fabric of everyone's life. They're concerns that everyone shares and that everyone can easily understand.

—Ben Kovitz, Shallowness

9 points CronoDAS 15 June 2009 04:52:22AM Permalink

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man." - George Bernard Shaw

9 points JamesCole 15 June 2009 12:25:51AM Permalink

“If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be” -- Thomas Jefferson

9 points wuwei 05 July 2009 10:33:17PM Permalink

According to an old story, a lord of ancient China once asked his physician, a member of a family of healers, which of them was the most skilled in the art.

The physician, whose reputation was such that his name became synonymous with medical science in China, replied, "My eldest brother sees the spirit of sickness and removes it before it takes shape and so his name does not get out of the house."

"My elder brother cures sickness when it is still extremely minute, so his name does not get out of the neighborhood."

"As for me, I puncture veins, prescribe potions, and massage skin, so from time to time my name gets out and is heard among the lords."

-- Thomas Cleary, Introduction to The Art of War

9 points davidr 04 July 2009 12:08:15PM Permalink

"On the contrary, it's because someone knows something about it that we can't talk about physics. It's the things that nobody knows about that we can discuss. We can talk about the weather; we can talk about social problems; we can talk about psychology; we can talk about international finance... so it's the subject that nobody knows anything about that we can all talk about! "

-- Richard Feynman

9 points anonym 03 July 2009 04:40:20AM Permalink

The sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to interpret, they mainly make models. By a model is meant a mathematical construct which, with the addition of certain verbal interpretations, describes observed phenomena. The justification of such a mathematical construct is solely and precisely that it is expected to work.

John Von Neumann

9 points hegemonicon 02 July 2009 11:15:56PM Permalink

"I am about to discuss the disease called 'sacred'. It is not, in my opinion, any more divine or more sacred than other diseases, but has a natural cause, and its supposed divine orgin is due to men's inexperience, and to their wonder at its peculiar character"

--Hippocractic treatise on epilepsy

9 points Z_M_Davis 02 July 2009 10:48:08PM Permalink

We all know many things about the world. What form or shape does our knowledge take? We may be able to say some of what we know, though in many people there is a deep and dangerous confusion between what they say and think they believe and what they really believe. But all of us know much more than we can say, and many times we cannot really put it into words at all.

For example, if we have eaten them, we know what strawberries taste like. We have in us somewhere knowledge---a memory, many memories---of the taste of strawberries. Not just one berry either, but many, more or less ripe, or sweet, or tasty. But how can we really speak of the taste of a strawberry? When we bite into a berry, we are ready to taste a certain kind of taste; if we taste something very different, we are surprised. It is this---what we expect or what surprises us---that tells us best what we really know.

We know many other things that we cannot say. We know what a friend looks like, so well that we may say, seeing him after some time, that he looks older or no older; heavier or thinner; worried or at peace, or happy. But our answers are usually so general that we could not give a description from which someone who had never seen our friend could recognize him.

---John Holt, What Do I Do Monday?

9 points RichardKennaway 02 July 2009 10:26:28PM Permalink

"To stay young requires unceasing cultivation of the ability to unlearn old falsehoods."

-- Robert A. Heinlein (to be precise, his character Lazarus Long, but I don't think there's much difference)

9 points JohannesDahlstrom 07 August 2009 07:29:07PM Permalink

There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.

-- Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

9 points anonym 07 August 2009 05:27:59AM Permalink

There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.

John Von Neumann

9 points Cyan 06 August 2009 05:29:24PM Permalink

"The account of perception that’s starting to emerge is what we might call the “brain’s best guess” theory of perception: perception is the brain’s best guess about what is happening in the outside world. The mind integrates scattered, weak, rudimentary signals from a variety of sensory channels, information from past experiences, and hard-wired processes, and produces a sensory experience full of brain-provided color, sound, texture, and meaning. ... Perception is inference."[emphasis added]

- Atul Gawande

9 points Rune 06 August 2009 03:43:23AM Permalink

"It’s hard to argue with a counter-example."

-- Roger Brockett

9 points childofbaud 25 October 2009 06:35:23PM Permalink

A formula is worth a thousand pictures.

—Edsger Dijkstra

9 points Nominull 22 October 2009 04:32:55PM Permalink

Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.

-- Unknown

9 points Kutta 30 November 2009 02:08:30PM Permalink

„The hard part is actually being rational, which requires that you postpone the fun but currently irrelevant arguments until the pressing problem is solved, even perhaps with the full knowledge that you are actually probably giving them up entirely. Delaying gratification in this manner is not a unique difficulty faced by transhumanists. Anyone pursuing a long-term goal, such as a medical student or PhD candidate, does the same. The special difficulty that you will have to overcome is the difficulty of staying on track in the absence of social support or of appreciation of the problem, and the difficulty of overcoming your mind’s anti-religion defenses, which will be screaming at you to cut out the fantasy and go live a normal life, with the normal empty set of beliefs about the future and its potential.”

– Michael Vassar

9 points Rain 30 November 2009 03:08:20AM Permalink

A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.

-- Dorothy L. Sayers

9 points RobinZ 30 November 2009 12:01:15AM Permalink

Quotation - yes, but how differently persons quote! I am as much informed of your genius by what you select, as by what you originate. I read the quotation with your eyes, find a new fervent sense... For good quoting, then, there must be originality in the quoter - bent, bias, delight in the truth, only valuing the author in the measure of his agreement with the truth which we see, which he had the luck to see first. And originality, what is that? It is being; being somebody, being yourself, reporting accurately what you see are. If another's words describe your fact, use them as freely as you use the language the alphabet, whose use does not impair your originality. Neither will another's sentiment or distinction impugn your sufficiency. Yet in proportion to your reality of life perception, will be your difficulty of finding yourself expressed in others' words or deeds.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, Oct.-Nov. 1867

9 points Morendil 08 January 2010 08:19:10AM Permalink

[...] Probability theory can tell us how our hypothesis fares relative to the alternatives that we have specified; it does not have the creative imagination to invent new hypotheses for us.

-- E.T. Jaynes, Probability Theory

9 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 January 2010 12:01:55AM Permalink

My two worst business experiences have been with ostentatiously 'spiritual' people. It's not that they're insincere in their beliefs, it's just a lot easier for them to deceive themselves that the selfish things they do have justifications in them somewhere.

-- PeteWarden

9 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 January 2010 12:00:43AM Permalink

Nobody wants to die. They just want the pain to stop.

-- Tetragrammaton

9 points MichaelGR 07 January 2010 09:51:45PM Permalink

I argue that people are primarily driven by envy as opposed to greed, so they are mindful of their relative, as opposed to absolute, position, and this leads to doing what others are doing as a mechanism of minimizing risk. --Eric Falkenstein

9 points Nic_Smith 07 January 2010 08:33:32PM Permalink

"It is therefore highly illogical to speak of 'verifying' (3.8 [the Bernoulli urn equation]) by performing experiments with the urn; that would be like trying to verify a boy's love for his dog by performing experiments on the dog." - E.T. Jaynes, Probability Theory

9 points aausch 01 February 2010 06:18:37PM Permalink

'Nash equilibrium strategy' is not necessarily synonymous to 'optimal play'. A Nash equilibrium can define an optimum, but only as a defensive strategy against stiff competition. More specifically: Nash equilibria are hardly ever maximally exploitive. A Nash equilibrium strategy guards against any possible competition including the fiercest, and thereby tends to fail taking advantage of sub-optimum strategies followed by competitors. Achieving maximally exploitive play generally requires deviating from the Nash strategy, and allowing for defensive leaks in ones own strategy. -- Johannes Koelman

9 points gregconen 01 February 2010 05:05:36PM Permalink

I always saw a close kinship between the needs of "pure" mathematics and a certain hero of Greek mythology, Antaeus. The son of Earth, he had to touch the ground every so often in order to reestablish contact with his Mother; otherwise his strength waned. To strangle him, Hercules simply held him off the ground. Back to mathematics. Separation from any down-to-earth input could safely be complete for long periods — but not forever.

-Benoit Mandelbrot

9 points Seth_Goldin 20 March 2010 05:45:56PM Permalink

"As one shocked 42-year-old manager exclaimed in the middle of a self-reflective career planning exercise, 'Oh, no! I just realized I let a 20-year-old choose my wife and my career!'"

-- Douglas T. Hall, Protean Careers of the 21st Century

9 points MichaelGR 02 March 2010 01:39:01AM Permalink

Responsibility is a unique concept... You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished. You may delegate it, but it is still with you... If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion, or ignorance or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else. Unless you can point your finger at the man who is responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.

--Admiral Hyman G. Rickover

9 points ABranco 01 March 2010 11:49:59PM Permalink

A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions — as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him answers above all. —Nietzsche

9 points MichaelGR 05 April 2010 06:35:53AM Permalink

"Torture the data long enough and they will confess to anything."

--via The Economist, "a saying of statisticians".

9 points NancyLebovitz 04 April 2010 05:30:22PM Permalink

Are the winners the only ones actually writing the history? We need to disabuse ourselves of this habit of saying things because they sound good. ----- Ta-Nehisi Coates

Coates runs a popular culture, black issues, and history blog with a very strong rationalist approach.

9 points anonym 04 April 2010 01:07:36AM Permalink

The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he's one who asks the right questions.

Claude Lévi-Strauss

9 points Nic_Smith 03 April 2010 02:07:05AM Permalink

[Discarding game] theory in favor of some notion of collective rationality makes no sense. One might as well propose abandoning arithmetic because two loaves and seven fish won't feed a multitude. -- Ken Binmore, Rational Decisions

9 points thomblake 03 May 2010 12:38:58AM Permalink

it can't be ineffable if you're effing it.

-Vorpal

9 points neq1 01 May 2010 11:29:24AM Permalink

"History is like the weather. Themes do repeat themselves, but never in the same way. And analogies became rhetorical flourishes and sad ex post facto justifications rather than explanations. In the end, they explain nothing."

-Errol Morris

9 points Tetronian 01 May 2010 11:25:47AM Permalink

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.

Aldous Huxley

9 points Alan 05 July 2010 04:22:00AM Permalink

What frightens us most in a madman is his sane conversation.

--Anatole France

9 points Kyre 02 July 2010 04:45:24AM Permalink

He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool - shun him

He who knows not, and knows that he knows not is a child - teach him

He who knows, and knows not that he knows is asleep - wake him

He who knows, and knows that he knows is wise - follow him

  • Persian proverb
9 points orthonormal 06 August 2010 07:00:12PM Permalink

In short, whatever emotional impulse we may have toward altruism and empathy, and to whatever extent it may be genetically hardwired, it does not obviate the need for explicit judgments about right and wrong. If it did not seem correct to act with kindness and fairness, even at a net personal cost—if there were no sensible reason for so acting, beyond a raw impulse to do so—then we would have reason to regard the raw impulse as pointlessly self-destructive—like a disposition to alcoholism or a purely visceral (so to speak) aversion to surgery—and we would have a reason to attempt to overcome it.

  • Gary Drescher, Good and Real
9 points Randaly 04 September 2010 03:01:09AM Permalink

"Test Your God.... Test[s] cannot harm a God of Truth, but will destroy fakes. Fake gods refuse test[s]."

~ Dr. Gene Ray

9 points Psychohistorian 03 September 2010 08:10:28PM Permalink

The best thing for being sad," replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.

--T.H. White, The Once and Future King

9 points Hariant 06 October 2010 10:53:08PM Permalink

Elphaba, where I'm from, we believe all sorts of things that aren't true. We call it - "history."

A man's called a traitor - or liberator.

A rich man's a thief - or philanthropist.

Is one a crusader - or ruthless invader?

It's all in which label is able to persist.

There are precious few at ease, with moral ambiguities. So we act as though they don't exist.

  • The Wizard of Oz, during the song Wonderful from Wicked
9 points NancyLebovitz 05 October 2010 02:34:03PM Permalink

What is required is less advice and more information. – Gerald M. Reaven

Found at The Healthy Skeptic.

9 points RichardKennaway 05 October 2010 12:30:08PM Permalink

If you state any two propositions abstractly enough, they will appear to be the same because you subsume them under the same generalization. But this does not mean they have anything to do with each other; it means only that you prefer not to see the differences.

William T. Powers

9 points AlanCrowe 02 November 2010 10:17:29PM Permalink

If, instead of welcoming inquiry and criticism, the admirers of a great author accept his writings as authoritative, both in their excellences and in their defects, the most serious injury is done to truth. In matters of philosophy and science, authority has ever been the great opponent of truth. A despotic calm is usually the triumph of error. In the republic of the sciences, sedition and even anarchy are beneficial in the long run to the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

William Stanley Jevons, Theory of Political Economy, 1871: p.275-6

9 points Rain 02 November 2010 09:21:06PM Permalink

I am still learning.

-- Michaelangelo's motto

9 points ata 11 December 2010 01:56:47AM Permalink

... unfortunately, there is a flaw in the reasoning. ... [T]o say that each of two numbers cannot be bigger than the other is to repeat the statement that is to be proved. It is not correct in logic to prove something by saying it over again; that only works in politics, and even there it is usually considered desirable to repeat the proposition hundreds of times before considering it as definitely established.

— Carl E. Linderholm, "Mathematics Made Difficult"

(There are many more good quotes to be found in this book.)

9 points jaimeastorga2000 03 December 2010 10:08:14AM Permalink

God is nowhere treated worse than by the natural scientists who believe in him. Materialists simply explain the facts, without making use of such phrases, they do this first when importunate pious believers try to force God upon them, and then they answer curtly, either like Laplace: Sire, je n’avais pas, etc., or more rudely in the manner of the Dutch merchants who, when German commercial travellers press their shoddy goods on them, are accustomed to turn them away with the words: Ik kan die zaken niet gebruiken [I have no use for the things] and that is the end of the matter: But what God has had to suffer at the hands of his defenders! In the history of modern natural science, God is treated by his defenders as Frederick William III was treated by his generals and officials in the Jena campaign. One division of the army after another lays down its arms, one fortress after another capitulates before the march of science, until at last the whole infinite realm of nature is conquered by science, and there is no place left in it for the Creator. Newton still allowed Him the “first impulse” but forbade Him any further interference ‘in his solar system. Father Secchi bows Him out of the solar system altogether, with all canonical honours it is true, but none the less categorically for all that, and he only allows Him a creative act as regards the primordial nebula. And so in all spheres. In biology, his last great Don Quixote, Agassiz, even ascribes positive nonsense to Him; He is supposed to have created not only the actual animals but also abstract animals, the fish as such! And finally Tyndall totally forbids Him any entry into nature and relegates Him to the world of emotional processes, only admitting Him because, after all, there must be somebody who knows more about all these things (nature) than John Tyndall! What a distance from the old God – the Creator of heaven and earth, the maintainer of all things – without whom not a hair can fall from the head!

~Frederick Engels, Notes and Fragments for Dialectics of Nature

9 points anonym 03 December 2010 08:34:17AM Permalink

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

8 points steven0461 22 April 2009 01:55:28PM Permalink

There's nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view that I hold dear.

--Daniel Dennett

8 points gjm 19 April 2009 01:03:39AM Permalink

He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.

John McCarthy

8 points badger 18 April 2009 10:53:33PM Permalink

The fundamental insight triggered by memetic studies is that a belief may spread without necessarily being true or helping the human being holding the belief in any way.

-- Keith Stanovich, The Robots Rebellion (p. xii)

8 points CronoDAS 18 April 2009 07:39:16PM Permalink

"Fifth Law of Decision Making: Decisions are justified by benefits to the organization; they are made by considering benefits to the decision makers." - Archibald Putt

8 points Yvain 18 April 2009 12:57:56PM Permalink

Nothing defines humans better than their willingness to do irrational things in the pursuit of phenomenally unlikely payoffs. This is the principle behind lotteries, dating, and religion.

-- Scott Adams

8 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 April 2009 01:27:52AM Permalink

We learn about who someone is by the choices they make when the choice isn't obvious.

-- Ben Casnocha

8 points RichardKennaway 21 May 2009 12:26:10PM Permalink

Don't forget, your mind only simulates logic.

Used as .sig quote by Glen C. Perkins e.g. here.

8 points brian_jaress 21 May 2009 07:22:48AM Permalink

People normally read only their own horoscope in the newspaper. If they forced themselves to read the other 11 they'd be far less impressed with the accuracy of their own.

-- Richard Dawkins, "Unweaving the Rainbow"

8 points XFrequentist 21 May 2009 03:37:41AM Permalink

In the future, as science becomes more and more oriented to thinking in terms of information content, Godel's result will be seen as more of a platitude than a paradox.

--E. T. Jaynes (on the infamous eponymous theorem)

8 points dfranke 19 May 2009 10:58:47PM Permalink

As a rule of thumb, anything particularly ridiculous in an otherwise reasonable context is probably due to a law.

-- "TheWama" on Reddit

8 points HughRistik 15 June 2009 06:51:21PM Permalink

In the King-on-the-Mountain style of conversation, one person (the King) makes a provocative statement, and requires that others refute it or admit to being wrong. The King is the judge of whether any attempted refutation is successful. [...] The King's behavior comes down to "you can't stop me". By the rules of his game, no one can make him back down. He treats conversation as a negotiation with his opponent. If his opponent wants him to back down, it's his opponent's responsibility to make him back down, not his responsibility to do something to help his opponent. He himself feels no responsibility to learn or understand or cultivate his mind.

—Ben Kovitz, King on the Mountain

8 points Henrik_Jonsson 15 June 2009 12:44:06PM Permalink

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of our exploring shall be to return where we started and know the place for the first time.

-- T.S. Eliot

8 points anonym 15 June 2009 02:16:06AM Permalink

Mathematics is the only good metaphysics.

Lord Kelvin

8 points Z_M_Davis 02 July 2009 11:05:17PM Permalink

[N]ot just our actions and reactions but our very perceptions, what we think we see, feel, smell, and so on, are deeply affected by our mental model, our assumptions and beliefs about the way things really are. In a great variety of experiments with perception, many people, many times over, have shown this to be true. Therefore it is not just fancy and tricky talk to say that each of us lives, not so much in an objective out-there world that is the same for all of us, but in his mental model of that world. It is this model of the world that he experiences. We are not, then starting an impossible contradiction, or using language carelessly, when we say that I live in my mental model of the world, and my mental model lives in me.

---John Holt, What Do I Do Monday?

Compare "Where Recursive Justification Hits Bottom"

8 points Tiiba 02 July 2009 10:53:06PM Permalink

At the other end of the spectrum are the opponents of reductionism who are appalled by what they feel to be the bleakness of modern science. To whatever extent they and their world can be reduced to a matter of particles or fields and their interactions, they feel diminished by that knowledge....I would not try to answer these critics with a pep talk about the beauties of modern science. The reductionist worldview is chilling and impersonal. It has to be accepted as it is, not because we like it, but because that is the way the world works.

--Steven Weinberg

8 points thomblake 14 August 2009 03:09:11PM Permalink

Albert grunted. "Do you know what happens to lads who ask too many questions?"

Mort thought for a moment.

"No," he said eventually, "what?"

There was silence.

Then Albert straightened up and said, "Damned if I know. Probably they get answers, and serve 'em right."

-Terry Pratchett, Mort

8 points anonym 07 August 2009 05:36:59AM Permalink

Your job as a scientist is to figure out how you’re fooling yourself.

Saul Perlmutter

8 points djcb 06 August 2009 05:15:45PM Permalink

There is no opinion so absurd that some philosopher will not express it.

-- Marcus Tullius Cicero

[ while in general I value philosophy, there is also much nonsense and, especially, little progress ]

8 points RobinZ 06 August 2009 01:03:37PM Permalink

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm (1646-1716): Although the whole of this life were said to be nothing but a dream and the physical world nothing but a phantasm, I should call this dream or phantasm real enough, if, using reason well, we were never deceived by it.

In J. R. Newman (ed.), The World of Mathematics, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956.

8 points dclayh 06 August 2009 05:16:39AM Permalink

Even if man really were nothing but a piano-key, even if this were proved to him by natural science and mathematics, even then he would not become reasonable, but would purposely do something perverse out of simple ingratitude, simply to gain his point.

—Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground

(Self-promotion: this is the epigraph to the novella I'm working on, which is not really about rationality but is about what we're pleased to call "human nature", and which you may read the beginning of here if so inclined.)

8 points Rune 06 August 2009 03:44:23AM Permalink

"If you’ve never missed a flight, you’re spending too much time in airports."

-- Umesh Vazirani (as quoted by Scott Aaronson)

8 points Vladimir_Nesov 06 August 2009 02:00:24AM Permalink

I sure wished I knew what the hell I was talking about, but I'd picked up enough terms and felt the importance attached to them, so that I could use them properly without knowing what they meant. But they felt right, so very right...

-- Roger Zelazny, as Corwin ("Nine Princes in Amber").

8 points gaffa 03 September 2009 09:06:47PM Permalink

It is better to have an approximate answer to the right question than an exact answer to the wrong question.

-- John Tukey

8 points thomblake 01 September 2009 07:30:43PM Permalink

To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them; this skill is most needed in times of stress and darkness.

-Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness

8 points ABranco 24 October 2009 03:56:03AM Permalink

Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned. —Avicenna (980–1037 AD)

8 points RichardKennaway 22 October 2009 11:54:10PM Permalink

Ph.D. comics no.1173

The script:

A grad student in humanities has been called before a hearing to justify his existence.

Student: "It's hard to explain monetarily, but how can you put a price tag on the human soul?"

Student: "The humanities help us appreciate beauty and grow as individuals."

Student: "What good are science and technology if we don't ask ourselves the question, what does it mean to be a human being?"

Chair: "So how's the answer coming along?"

Student: "Oh no, we just ask the question, not actually answer it."

8 points Tom_Talbot 22 October 2009 09:36:11PM Permalink

The unwillingness to tolerate or respect any social forces which are not recognizable as the product of intelligent design, which is so important a cause of the present desire for comprehensive economic planning, is indeed only one aspect of a more general movement. We meet the same tendency in the field of morals and conventions, in the desire to substitute an artificial for the existing languages, and in the whole modern attitude toward processes which govern the growth of knowledge. The belief that only a synthetic system of morals, an artificial language, or even an artificial society can be justified in an age of science, as well as the increasing unwillingness to bow before any moral rules whose utility is not rationally demonstrated, or to conform with conventions whose rationale is not known, are all manifestations of the same basic view which wants all social activity to be recognizably part of a single coherent plan. They are the results of that same rationalistic "individualism" which wants to see in everything the product of conscious individual reason.

Friedrich Hayek, Individualism: True and False

8 points PhilGoetz 22 October 2009 09:15:03PM Permalink

The master mathematician sat in his private room and pushed the papers from him. His calculations were already finished. In a small white phial there still remained a little of the drug that had kept him awake and active for four long nights. Each day, serene, explicit, patient as ever, he had given his lecture to his students, and then had come back at once to this momentous calculation. His face was grave, a little drawn and hectic from his drugged activity. For some time he seemed lost in thought. Then he went to the window, and the blind went up with a click. Half way up the sky, over the clustering roofs, chimneys and steeples of the city, hung the star.

He looked at it as one might look into the eyes of a brave enemy. "You may kill me," he said after a silence. "But I can hold you--and all the universe for that matter--in the grip of this little brain. I would not change. Even now."

-- H.G. Wells, "The Star", 1897

8 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 October 2009 04:13:58PM Permalink

I've never seen a UFO. When I went to places that were rumored to be haunted, nothing showed up. Two hours of intense staring didn't make my pencil move a single millimeter, and glaring at my classmate's head didn't reveal his thoughts to me, either. I couldn't help but get depressed at how normal the laws of physics were.

-- Kyon, The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi

8 points Proto 01 December 2009 05:38:11PM Permalink

"I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this." - Emo Phillips

8 points CronoDAS 30 November 2009 01:39:24PM Permalink

"Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and their freedoms." - Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers

8 points epistememe 30 November 2009 05:58:22AM Permalink

There are two different types of people in the world,those who want to know,and those who want to believe.--Attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche

8 points James_Miller 30 November 2009 03:39:50AM Permalink

A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist.

From the Yes, Minister TV show.

8 points Rain 30 November 2009 03:08:37AM Permalink

Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.

-- G. K. Chesterton

8 points anonym 30 November 2009 02:03:46AM Permalink

... by natural selection our mind has adapted itself to the conditions of the external world. It has adopted the geometry most advantageous to the species or, in other words, the most convenient. Geometry is not true, it is advantageous.

— Henri Poincaré

8 points anonym 30 November 2009 01:40:53AM Permalink

Memory belongs to the imagination. Human memory is not like a computer which records things; it is part of the imaginative process, on the same terms as invention.

— Alain Robbe-Grillet

8 points RichardKennaway 12 January 2010 12:17:17PM Permalink

"If I were wrong, then one would have been enough."

Einstein's reported response to the pamphlet One Hundred Authors Against Einstein.

8 points Zack_M_Davis 11 January 2010 11:48:19AM Permalink

Mathematical folklore contains a story about how Acta Quandalia published a paper proving that all partially uniform k-quandles had the Cosell property, and then a few months later published another paper proving that no partially uniform k-quandles had the Cosell property. And in fact, goes the story, both theorems were quite true, which put a sudden end to the investigation of partially uniform k-quandles.

-- Mark Jason Dominus

8 points Matt_Duing 08 January 2010 11:38:26PM Permalink

"Do not ask permission to understand. Do not wait for the word of authority. Seize reason in your own hand. With your own teeth savor the fruit."

-"The Way of Analysis", Robert S. Strichartz

8 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 February 2010 12:45:39AM Permalink

It's amazing the things people would rather have than money.

-- Garfield

8 points Rain 01 February 2010 12:40:42PM Permalink

There's no mystical energy field that controls my destiny.

-- Han Solo

8 points Rain 01 March 2010 09:55:15PM Permalink

Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today -- but the core of science fiction, its essence, the concept around which it revolves, has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.

-- Isaac Asimov

8 points Morendil 01 March 2010 10:28:08AM Permalink

The reason you feel most comfortable with a job (unless, like me, you're in the minority - a job would destroy my psyche) is that you've been brainwashed by many years of school, socialization and practice. I pick the word brainwashed carefully, because it's more than training or acclimation. It's something that's been taught to you by people who needed you to believe it was the way things are supposed to be.

-- Seth Godin

8 points aausch 09 April 2010 03:37:43AM Permalink

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

-- Gautama Buddha

8 points Piglet 05 April 2010 03:14:01PM Permalink

"Face the facts. Then act on them. It's the only mantra I know, the only doctrine I have to offer you, and it's harder than you'd think, because I swear humans seem hardwired to do anything but. Face the facts. Don't pray, don't wish, don't buy into centuries-old dogma and dead rhetoric. Don't give in to your conditioning or your visions or your fucked-up sense of... whatever. FACE THE FACTS. THEN act."

--- Quellcrist Falconer, speech before the assault on Millsport. (Richard Morgan, Broken Angels)

8 points MichaelGR 05 April 2010 06:36:34AM Permalink

"A lie is a lie even if everyone believes it. The truth is the truth even if nobody believes it."

-David Stevens

8 points NancyLebovitz 04 April 2010 05:40:11PM Permalink

"In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined."

Thomas Szaz

8 points RichardKennaway 01 April 2010 10:41:27PM Permalink

Galls Law:

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The inverse proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.

John Gall, "Systemantics"

8 points JenniferRM 02 May 2010 10:05:03PM Permalink

If scientists do believe that they are ethically bound to improve the lot of ordinary people, or at least to decrease violence and increase possibilities for the pursuit of happiness, as I do, then perhaps the greatest challenge — and one that has been wholly overlooked here — is "how do we as scientists advance reason in an inherently unreasonable world?" This is a very difficult issue and one that cannot be seriously addressed by simply trying to muscle science and reason into everyday or momentous human affairs. I am privy to hostage negotiations, and be assured that simply telling hostage takers their beliefs are bullshit will get you the opposite of what you want, like the hostage's head delivered on a platter. Of course, that's an extreme case; but reason by backward induction towards the less extreme cases in the actual political and social conditions of our present world and you will find that the tactics proposed at the conference for an unlikely strategic shift in humankind's thinking will most probably blowback and backfire. And I almost thank God that even the best of our scientists are not prominent political negotiators or policymakers.

-- Scott Atran

8 points anonym 02 May 2010 03:05:01AM Permalink

Science is not ’organized common sense'; at its most exciting, it reformulates our view of the world by imposing powerful theories against the ancient, anthropocentric prejudices that we call intuition.

-- Stephen J. Gould

8 points RichardKennaway 01 May 2010 08:10:26AM Permalink

"This is the first test of a gentleman: his respect for those who can be of no possible value to him."

-- William Lyon Phelps

8 points Thomas 01 May 2010 06:10:52AM Permalink

Science must have originated in the feeling that something was wrong.

-Thomas Carlyle

8 points Kaj_Sotala 05 June 2010 01:44:37AM Permalink

Not strictly a rationality quote, but screw it, it's beautiful anyway:

I take it as a given that, during the course of my lifespan, there's always been television (not color to start with, but there was TV), that indoor plumbing and lights have always been around, flight is not only possible but commonplace and pretty much always has been, and the moon landing happened before I was born.

A part of me regrets missing the introduction of all of those exciting technologies and innovations, because to me they are all background things that just are. They aren't wondrous, they just are.

No matter where you live in history, there are always improvements that you'll appreciate, but there's always amazing stuff that was there before that you will only see as part of the world as it's always been, and will be even more amazing stuff that will come after you that would probably blow your mind if you ever had the chance to see it (or would be so far beyond your comprehension you couldn't appreciate it).

You don't truly appreciate the amazing parts of an advance unless you've watched those parts happen.

To me, computers (and video games, etc), color/stereo televisions, microwaves, mobile phones, digital wristwatches, and many of the things you no doubt take for granted are marvels. When I was a kid, they largely did not exist. Which is not to say they all of them were completely unavailable, but when I was growing up no one I knew owned any of them and they were brand new.

I both envy my grandparents (now all dead) and my yet-to-be-born grandchildren the wonders of their lifetimes that I will never see they way they do. The wonders of my grandparents are my commonplace items. The wonders of my grandchildren are probably beyond my imagination.

But that's just human nature. We want to see it all. And eventually we learn we'll never succeed. It's both heartening and saddening at the same time.

-- natehoy

8 points Zubon 03 June 2010 01:19:57AM Permalink

all arguments online seem to follow that format. It's like a giant straw man ate a radioactive non sequitor and began rampaging through downtown Tokyo.

-- jman3030

8 points Rain 02 July 2010 12:05:34AM Permalink

Human stupidity is formidable but not invincible.

-- Robert C. W. Ettinger, The Prospect of Immortality

8 points Randaly 14 August 2010 03:15:15AM Permalink

"A joke told by Warren Buffett comes to mind: a patient, after hearing from a doctor that he has cancer, tells the doctor, “Doc, I don’t have enough money for the surgery, but maybe could I pay you to touch up the x-ray?” Hope and self-deception are not a strategy."

~ Vitaliy Katsenelson

8 points Rain 03 August 2010 12:55:31AM Permalink

Your imaginings can have as much power over you as your reality, or even more.

-- Charles T. Tart

8 points arch1 01 September 2010 08:29:57PM Permalink

Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth, more than ruin, more even than death.... Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man. (Bertrand Russell)

8 points Kazuo_Thow 01 September 2010 03:38:48PM Permalink

Ignoring the trees to see the forest doesn't mean that one is more important than the other - it just gives a different perspective.

-- Michael Sipser, Introduction to the Theory of Computation (2nd ed., page 257)

8 points lionhearted 01 September 2010 10:44:55AM Permalink

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

-- Peter Drucker

8 points xamdam 15 October 2010 12:03:34PM Permalink

AI makes philosophy honest

-- Dan Dennet

8 points Rain 12 October 2010 12:18:52AM Permalink

I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything, and in many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here, and what the question might mean. I might think about a little, but if I can't figure it out, then I go to something else. But I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn't frighten me.

-- Richard Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

8 points HonoreDB 06 December 2010 05:41:04AM Permalink

The scared fighter may be the best fighter, but the scared learner is always a poor learner.

--John Holt

8 points Vaniver 06 December 2010 03:04:33AM Permalink

"Any fool can have an opinion; to know what one needs to know to have an opinion is wisdom; which is another way of saying that wisdom means knowing what questions to ask about knowledge."

--Neil Postman, "Building a Bridge to the 18th Century"

8 points MichaelGR 05 December 2010 09:49:21PM Permalink

Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

-George Bernard Shaw

7 points Theist 21 April 2009 07:02:24PM Permalink

When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.

-- Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors http://www-usr.rider.edu/~suler/zenstory/ritualcat.html

7 points infotropism 18 April 2009 08:02:02PM Permalink

There will always be a large difference between those who'd ask themselves "why won't things work as they are meant to" and those asking themselves "how could I get them to work". For the moment being, the human world belongs to those who would ask "why". But the future belongs, necessarily, to those who'd ask themselves "how".

Bernard Werber

7 points dreeves 18 April 2009 07:38:41PM Permalink

"I have no need of that hypothesis." -- Laplace to Napoleon

7 points infotropism 18 April 2009 03:50:11PM Permalink

Philosophy easily triumphs over past and future evils. But present ones, prevail over it.

Maxim 22 François de La Rochefoucauld

7 points astray 20 May 2009 07:40:34PM Permalink

“Whether and when law is more effective than code is an empirical matter — something to be studied, and considered, not dismissed by banalities spruced up with italics.” - Lawrence Lessig

7 points Vladimir_Nesov 24 June 2009 05:19:24PM Permalink

"A few intellectually rigorous killjoys argued that any explanation to which humans could relate was probably anthropomorphic nonsense, but nobody invited them onto talk shows."

--Greg Egan, "Quarantine".

7 points smoofra 15 June 2009 03:49:24PM Permalink

"I don't, I've come to believe, have to agree with you to like you, or respect you."

--Anthony Bourdain.

Never forget that your opponents are not evil mutants. They are the heroes of their own stories, and if you can't fathom why they do what they do, or why they believe what they believe, that's your failing not theirs.

7 points Stefan_King 15 June 2009 09:17:46AM Permalink

"Wisdom seems to come largely from curing childish qualities, and intelligence largely from cultivating them."

--Paul Graham

7 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 June 2009 01:19:33AM Permalink

"Fierce battles are fought within the confines of our goal systems. Inside the closed walls the essence of right and wrong is at stake as the rebels engage the guards of the evolutionary past. After the violent confrontations, the old kings rejoice their triumph or get beheaded to become but ghosts of their former glory. And again and again our inner book of morals gets revised... — Nevertheless, whatever the outcome is, it is, by definition, good."

-- Mika

7 points spuckblase 04 July 2009 08:05:55AM Permalink

"I’m moved to laughter at the thought of how presumptuous it would be to reject mathematics for philosophical reasons. How would you like the job of telling the mathematicians that they must change their ways…now that philosophy has discovered that there are no classes? Can you tell them, with a straight face, to follow philosophical argument wherever it leads? If they challenge your credentials, will you boast of philosophy’s other great discoveries: that motion is impossible, that a Being than which no greater can be conceived cannot be conceived not to exist, that it is unthinkable that anything exists outside the mind, that time is unreal, that no theory has ever been made at all probable by evidence (but on the other hand that an empirically ideal theory cannot possibly be false), that it is a wide-open scientific question whether anyone has ever believed anything, and so on, and on, ad nauseam? Not me!"

-- David Lewis, 'Parts of Classes'

7 points RichardKennaway 02 July 2009 11:25:08PM Permalink

"The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice that failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds."

-- R.D. Laing, Knots

7 points JohannesDahlstrom 02 July 2009 10:02:22PM Permalink

It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.

-- Neil Gaiman Terry Pratchett, 'Good Omens'

7 points Simulacra 06 August 2009 04:46:55AM Permalink

Feedback phenomena and human intuition are uncomfortable bedfellows. When people dislike where an equilibrium argument takes them, it is therefore unsurprising that they invent simpler arguments that lead to more palatable conclusions. However, the first principle of rational thought is never to allow your preferences to influence your beliefs.

Ken Binmore

7 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 August 2009 04:04:49AM Permalink

True, it would be some kind of bland comfort if no one had any cause for which they would be willing to kill. It would be an unimaginable horror, though, if no one had a cause for which they were willing to die.

-- Tailsteak

7 points Rain 01 September 2009 10:57:48PM Permalink

You won't gain knowledge by drinking ink.

-Arab proverb

7 points ABranco 24 October 2009 03:57:34AM Permalink

What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so. —Mark Twain

7 points ABranco 24 October 2009 03:16:15AM Permalink

You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. —Daniel Moyniham

7 points RichardKennaway 22 October 2009 11:31:05PM Permalink

"Experience does not ever err, it is only your judgement that errs in promising itself results which are not caused by your experiments."

Leonardo Da Vinci

7 points Tom_Talbot 22 October 2009 09:59:33PM Permalink

I won’t teach a man who is not eager to learn, nor will I explain to one incapable of forming his own ideas. Nor have I anything more to say to those who, after I have made clear one corner of the subject, cannot deduce the other three.

Confucius

7 points roland 22 October 2009 08:46:50PM Permalink

A behavioral policy based on an inside strategy permits the alcoholic to sit at the bar and rehearse the reasons to abstain. An outside strategy identifies a principle or rule of conduct that produces the most accurate or desirable available outcome, and sticks to that rule despite the subjective pull to abandon the principle. A behavioral policy based on an outside strategy recommends that you avoid the bar in the first place.

-- Michael Bishop, 50 Years of Successful Predictive Modeling Should Be Enough: Lessons for Philosophy of Science

7 points roland 22 October 2009 07:14:13PM Permalink

Our minds are like inmates, captive to our biology, unless we manage a cunning escape.

-- Nassim Taleb

7 points PeterS 22 October 2009 07:09:39PM Permalink

Dear Meg,

Please don't try to trisect the angle. . . It's not a matter of being clever.

Ian Stewart, Letters to a Young Mathematician

7 points ABranco 01 December 2009 03:51:07AM Permalink

A pair of the same species:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. —Yeats

The trouble with this world is that the ignorant are certain, and the intelligent are full of doubt. —George Bernard Shaw

7 points RichardKennaway 30 November 2009 08:37:35AM Permalink

No man knows the state of another; it is always to some more or less imaginary man that the wisest and most honest adviser is speaking.

-- Thomas Carlyle, Advice to Young Men

7 points epistememe 30 November 2009 05:53:32AM Permalink

"You can tell the truth but you better have a fast horse." - Rita Mae Brown

7 points Rain 30 November 2009 03:14:23AM Permalink

Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has come, stop thinking and go in.

-- Napoleon Bonaparte

7 points anonym 30 November 2009 02:03:25AM Permalink

The whole of science consists of data that, at one time or another, were inexplicable.

— Brendan O’Regan

7 points anonym 30 November 2009 01:52:25AM Permalink

Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience, it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.

— Leonardo da Vinci

7 points NancyLebovitz 11 January 2010 11:31:02AM Permalink

Whats wrong with identifying with sports teams

A very funny video comparing identifying with a team to assuming you were there in your favorite movies.

7 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 07 January 2010 11:57:26PM Permalink

You're always in a box. Being aware of the box can help you tremendously. It's when you think that you've left the box that's dangerous, because you're still in the box, but now you don't know it.

-- Nazgulnarsil

7 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 07 January 2010 11:54:26PM Permalink

When someone tells you that anything is possible, tell them to dribble a football.

-- Anon

7 points Rain 07 January 2010 11:35:26PM Permalink

No effect is ever the effect of a single cause, but only a combination of causes.

-- Herbert Samuel

7 points Unnamed 07 January 2010 05:38:01PM Permalink

"The most dangerous untruths are truths slightly distorted."

-- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

7 points aausch 07 February 2010 11:26:15PM Permalink

Margaret Mead made a world-wide reputation for herself with her book Coming of Age in Samoa. After visiting the island of Samoa and talking to some teenage girls, she came away convinced that the Puritanism of the American sexual code was cultural artifact. In Samoa, by contrast, sex was freely practiced, with little attention to any niceties. Unfortunately, she was wrong about this, as we learned almost a half a century later, when Derek Freeman, who actually spoke Samoan, went to Samoa and interviewed the now grown women who had been interviewed by Margaret Mead many years earlier. He discovered that they had been putting her on. Decency and sexual restraint were as important to Samoans as to Americans.

  • James Q. Wilson, Moral Intuitions
7 points Matt_Duing 03 February 2010 02:53:33AM Permalink

"Seeing is believing, but seeing isn't knowing." -- AronRa

7 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 February 2010 12:33:11AM Permalink

Organizations don’t suffer pathologies; they are intrinsically pathological constructs. Idealized organizations are not perfect. They are perfectly pathological.

-- http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-or-the-office-according-to-the-office/

7 points XiXiDu 01 February 2010 10:58:47AM Permalink

A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.

-- Groucho Marx

7 points wedrifid 01 February 2010 07:11:11AM Permalink

During a conversation with a Christian friend, during which my apostasy was challenged sincerely and politely but with the usual arguments and style...

Christian: And the Bible tells us that if we have Faith as small as a mustard seed...

Me: Yeah, we can move mountains. Matthew 17:20. So, tell me. Could God make an argument so circular that even He couldnt believe it?

Christian: Of course! He's God, God can do anything.

'Made in His Image' seems to apply all too well.

7 points seanlandis 02 March 2010 05:14:58AM Permalink

"The formal study of complex systems is really, really hard." -David Colander

7 points beriukay 05 April 2010 11:58:43AM Permalink

"It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." ~William Kingdon Clifford

This is the quote that got me thinking about rationality as something other than "a word you use to describe things you believe so that you can deride those who disagree with you."

7 points wnoise 01 April 2010 08:45:00PM Permalink

True Knowledge:

Life is a process of breaking down and using other matter, and if need be, other life. Therefore, life is aggression, and successful life is successful aggression. Life is the scum of matter, and people are the scum of life. There is nothing but matter, forces, space and time, which together make power. Nothing matters, except what matters to you. Might makes right, and power makes freedom. You are free to do whatever is in your power, and if you want to survive and thrive you had better do whatever is in your interests. If your interests conflict with those of others, let the others pit their power against yours, everyone for theirselves. If your interests coincide with those of others, let them work together with you, and against the rest. We are what we eat, and we eat everything.

All that you really value, and the goodness and truth and beauty of life, have their roots in this apparently barren soil.

This is the true knowledge.

We had founded our idealism on the most nihilistic implications of science, our socialism on crass self-interest, our peace on our capacity for mutual destruction, and our liberty on determinism. We had replaced morality with convention, bravery with safety, frugality with plenty, philosophy with science, stoicism with anesthetics and piety with immortality. The universal acid of the true knowledge had burned away a world of words, and exposed a universe of things.

Things we could use.

--Ken MacLeod, The Cassini Division

7 points Seth_Goldin 04 May 2010 02:15:40AM Permalink

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." Albert Einstein

This relates well to my earlier frustration about the cop-out of vaguely appealing to life experience in an argument, without actually explaining anything.

7 points Thomas 01 May 2010 04:26:54PM Permalink

Q: How much does the smoke weight?

A: Subtract from the weight of the wood that was burned the weight of the ashes that remain, and you will have the weight of the smoke.

--Immanuel Kant

7 points Rain 01 May 2010 02:22:28PM Permalink

Dedication, absolute dedication, is what keeps one ahead -- a sort of indomitable, obsessive dedication and the realization that there is no end or limit to this because life is simply an ever-growing process, an ever-renewing process.

-- Bruce Lee

7 points RichardKennaway 01 May 2010 08:08:39AM Permalink

"If a man could understand all the horror of the lives of ordinary people who are turning around in a circle of insignificant interests and insignificant aims, if he could understand what they are losing, he would understand that there can be only one thing that is serious for him---to escape from the general law, to be free. What can be serious for a man in prison who is condemned to death? Only one thing: How to save himself, how to escape: nothing else is serious."

P.D. Ouspensky, "In Search of the Miraculous", ch.17

7 points Thomas 05 June 2010 02:43:48PM Permalink

What I cannot build, I do not understand.

    — Richard Feynman
7 points ZoneSeek 02 June 2010 10:19:22AM Permalink

"You rationalize, Keeton. You defend. You reject unpalatable truths, and if you can't reject them outright you trivialize them. Incremental evidence is never enough for you. You hear rumors of Holocaust; you dismiss them. You see evidence of genocide; you insist it can't be so bad. Temperatures rise, glaciers melt—species die—and you blame sunspots and volcanoes. Everyone is like this, but you most of all. You and your Chinese Room. You turn incomprehension into mathematics, you reject the truth without even knowing what it is."

--Jukka Sarasti, rationalist vampire in Peter Watts's Blindsight. Great book on neuroscience and map != territory.

7 points Rain 01 June 2010 11:49:33PM Permalink

The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best - and therefore never scrutinize or question.

-- Stephen Jay Gould

7 points Rain 01 June 2010 11:37:27PM Permalink

Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.

-- Democritus

7 points RichardKennaway 01 June 2010 08:38:46PM Permalink

The value of a sword cannot be judged when the sword stands alone in a corner; only when it is wielded by an expert can one see its true worth.

-- old Chinese saying

7 points RichardKennaway 01 June 2010 07:52:38PM Permalink

You wouldn't believe how much time people spend looking for evidence that something couldn't possibly work for them. If they spent one-tenth the time looking for something that DID work, they'd have their problem solved almost immediately.

-- Eric Pepke

7 points gwern 06 July 2010 09:56:31AM Permalink

"Perhaps the excellence of aphorisms consists not so much in the expression of some rare or abstruse sentiment, as in the comprehension of some obvious and useful truth in a few words.

We frequently fall into error and folly, not because the true principles of action are not known, but because, for a time, they are not remembered; and he may therefore be justly numbered among the benefactors of mankind who contracts the great rules of life into short sentences, that may be easily impressed on the memory, and taught by frequent recollection to recur habitually to the mind."

--Samuel Johnson, Rambler #175, November 19, 1751

7 points djcb 03 July 2010 10:41:26AM Permalink

Their judgment was based more upon blind wishing than upon any sound prevision; for it is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy.

-- Thucydides, Greek Historian, ca. 5th century BCE (Book IV, 108)

I like Thucydides for the way he tries to explain history in terms of real-politik, people, their drives and especially without including the gods in an explanation, somewhat similar to Hippocrates.

Interestingly, a modern version of this appeared in Neal Stephenson's Anathem:

Never believe a thing simply because you want it to be true

where it's called Diax's Rake.

Anathem is a great book, I'd like to add, and quite well aligned with many of the LW themes.

7 points Jayson_Virissimo 02 July 2010 05:48:13PM Permalink

Man, n. An irrational animal whose irrationality is best demonstrated by his irrational belief in his rationality.

-L. A. Rollins, Lucifer's Lexicon

7 points RobinZ 11 August 2010 12:32:56PM Permalink

The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.

- Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You (1894), ch. III

7 points NihilCredo 03 August 2010 04:42:45AM Permalink

Therefore, after intellectually evaluating your problems through common sense and drawing on what psychiatry has taught us, if you still cannot emotionally release yourself from unwarranted guilt, and put your theories into action, then you should learn to make your guilt work for you. You should act upon your natural instincts, and then, if you cannot perform without feeling guilty, revel in your guilt. This may sound like a contradiction in terms, but if you will think about it, guilt can often add a fillip to the senses. Adults would do well to take a lesson from children: children often take great delight in doing something they know they are not supposed to.

-- Howard Stanton Levey, The Satanic Bible

(hopefully unnecessary disclaimer: I am in no way a Satanist)

7 points Kazuo_Thow 03 September 2010 03:01:58PM Permalink

How do you get new ideas? That you do by analogy, mostly, and in working with analogy you often make very great errors. It's a great game to try to look at the past, at an unscientific era, look at something there, and say have we got the same thing now, and where is it?

-- Richard Feynman, The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist, page 114

7 points linaresj 01 September 2010 08:27:35AM Permalink

Be not astonished at new ideas; for it is well known to you that a thing does not therefore cease to be true because it is not accepted by many.

-- Spinoza

7 points gwern 24 October 2010 11:58:59PM Permalink

"The conversation eventually turned to the fact that Palanpur farmers sow their winter crops several weeks after the date at which yields would be maximized. The farmers do not doubt that earlier planting would give them larger harvests, but no one, the farmer explained, is willing to be the first to plant, as the seeds on any lone plot would be quickly eaten by birds.

I asked if a large group of farmers, perhaps relatives, had ever agreed to sow earlier, all planting on the same day to minimize the losses. 'If we knew how to do that,” he said, looking up from his hoe at me, "we would not be poor.'"

--Microeconomics, pg 39, Samuel Bowles

7 points Thomas 20 October 2010 11:45:29AM Permalink

Truth does not demand belief. Scientists do not join hands every Sunday, singing 'Yes, gravity is real! I will have faith! I will be strong! I believe in my heart that what goes up, up, up must come down, down, down. Amen!' If they did, we would think they were pretty insecure about it.

  • Dan Barker
7 points ata 13 October 2010 06:11:19PM Permalink

You're only as young as the last time you changed your mind.

— Timothy Leary

7 points ata 13 October 2010 02:51:06AM Permalink

Ralph: When's Bart coming back?

Lisa: He's not. He thought he was better than the laws of probability. Anyone else think he's better than the laws of probability?

(Nelson raises his hand.)

Lisa: Well, you're not!

— The Simpsons, Season 22, Episode 3, "MoneyBART"

7 points SilasBarta 06 October 2010 02:56:53PM Permalink

A real-world example of Parfits Hitchhiker was prominently in the news recently, about firefighters that watched a guys house burn down because didn't buy a subscription, even though he offered to pay when they arrived at the scene (which I assume means with all the penalties for serving a non-member, etc.). The parallel to PH became clear from this exchange with a writer on Salon:

Yes, he offered to pay, while his house burned. I can’t prove what would have happened, but the FD would probably have had to sue him to gain full reimbursement. ...

A man whose house is on fire will say anything to a guy with the means to put the fire out -- best not to trust him, unless you can get it in writing.

Obviously, this doesn't carry over the "perfect predictor" aspect, but I'm guessing the FD's decision maker could do much better than chance in guessing whether they'd be able to recover the money -- and the homeowner suffered as a result of not being able to credibly tell the FD (which, of course, has its own subjunctive decision-theoretic concerns about "if I put out the fires of non-payers when they ...") that he would pay later.

(Sorry if this has been posted already, and let me know if this belongs somewhere else like the new discussion forum.)

Update: Okay, it looks like details are in dispute -- by some accounts, he wasn't offering the penalty rate, and people dispute whether the nonpayment was deliberate or an oversight (and the evidence strongly favors the former). "You'll say anything", indeed.

7 points Zetetic 04 November 2010 09:00:38PM Permalink

Many a man has cherished for years as his hobby some vague shadow of an idea, too meaningless to be positively false; he has, nevertheless, passionately loved it, has made it his companion by day and by night, and has given to it his strength and his life, leaving all other occupations for its sake, and in short has lived with it and for it, until it has become, as it were, flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone; and then he has waked up some bright morning to find it gone, clean vanished away like the beautiful Melusina of the fable, and the essence of his life gone with it. I have myself known such a man; and who can tell how many histories of circle-squarers, metaphysicians, astrologers, and what not, may not be told in the old German story?

Charles Sanders Peirce

7 points Psy-Kosh 12 December 2010 04:08:44AM Permalink

That's the thing about power, I think. To some people --those of us who have none-- anyone who has it and uses it is a villain. To those who have it, anyone who tries to stop them from using it is a villain. Because we're all the heroes of our own story, no matter what horrible things we might be doing.

Sometimes people do terrible things with the best of intentions. I don't think that makes them any less guilty. But if you understand their reasons, you might find it more difficult to condemn them out of hand. You might find it more difficult to call them villains.

On the other hand, sometimes people do terrible things with the absolute worst of intentions. But even there, I don't think they're supervillains. I think they're just people.

(emphasis added)

  • David J. Schwartz, "Superpowers"
7 points David_Gerard 11 December 2010 09:30:54PM Permalink

Witching was turning out to be mostly hard work and really short on magic of the zap!-glingle-glingle-glingle variety. There was no school and nothing that was exactly like a lesson. But it wasn’t wise to try to learn witching all by yourself, especially if you had a natural talent. If you got it wrong, you could go from ignorant to cackling in a week ...

When you got right down to it, it was all about cackling. No one ever talked about this, though. Witches said things like “You can never be too old, too skinny, or too warty,” but they never mentioned the cackling. Not properly. They watched out for it, though, all the time.

It was all too easy to become a cackler. Most witches lived by themselves (cat optional) and might go for weeks without ever seeing another witch. In those times when people hated witches, they were often accused of talking to their cats. Of course they talked to their cats. After three weeks without an intelligent conversation that wasn’t about cows, you’d talk to the wall. And that was an early sign of cackling.

“Cackling,” to a witch, didn’t just mean nasty laughter. It meant your mind drifting away from its anchor. It meant you losing your grip. It meant loneliness and hard work and responsibility and other people’s problems driving you crazy a little bit at a time, each bit so small that you’d hardly notice it, until you thought that it was normal to stop washing and wear a kettle on your head. It meant you thinking that the fact you knew more than anyone else in your village made you better than them. It meant thinking that right and wrong were negotiable. And, in the end, it meant you “going to the dark,” as the witches said. That was a bad road. At the end of that road were poisoned spinning wheels and gingerbread cottages.

What stopped this was the habit of visiting. Witches visited other witches all the time, sometimes traveling quite a long way for a cup of tea and a bun. Partly this was for gossip, of course, because witches love gossip, especially if it’s more exciting than truthful. But mostly it was to keep an eye on one another.

Today Tiffany was visiting Granny Weatherwax, who was in the opinion of most witches (including Granny herself) the most powerful witch in the mountains. It was all very polite. No one said, “Not gone bats, then?” or “Certainly not! I’m as sharp as a spoon!” They didn’t need to. They understood what it was all about, so they talked of other things. But when she was in a mood, Granny Weatherwax could be hard work.

  • Pratchett, "Wintersmith"
7 points AstroCJ 03 December 2010 09:27:03AM Permalink

[EDIT: Found to be erroneous! Sorry!]

I don't feel frightened, not knowing things; I think it's much more interesting.

-Richard P. Feynman

7 points DSimon 03 December 2010 08:05:15AM Permalink

| Theory and practice sometimes clash. And when that happens, theory loses. Every single time.

-- Linus Torvalds

7 points billswift 03 December 2010 05:20:49AM Permalink

The brighter you are, the more you have to learn. -- Don Herold

I don't know the context of this, I came across it as a quote, but I can see two totally different interpretations, both true.

ADDED: Make that five interpretations.

The two I had in mind were:

Epistemic responsibility - you have an ethical obligation to learn because you can.

The more you have to learn - I don't know about you, but I am about as likely to stop learning as to stop breathing - I'm not likely to do either voluntarily.

6 points AlanCrowe 20 April 2009 07:12:47PM Permalink

Over on Hacker News mechanical_fish explains science

I don't believe anything which hasn't been replicated by a skeptic, because people are too trusting and hopeful and are blind to their own mistakes. Frankly, your equipment is probably broken and your students are probably ignorant; I only trust myself. And, come to think of it, I don't even trust me very much -- I should convince my skeptics to replicate my results so that I can believe me.

6 points Mulciber 20 April 2009 04:18:59AM Permalink

"Dear is Plato, dearer still is truth."

-Aristotle

6 points badger 18 April 2009 11:10:46PM Permalink

We're descended from the indignant, passionate tellers of half truths who in order to convince others, simultaneously convinved themselves. Over generations success had winnowed us out, and with success came our defect, carved deep in the genes like ruts in a cart track—when it didn't suit us we couldn't agree on what was in front of us. Believing is seeing. That's why there are divorces, border disputes and wars, and why this statue of the Virgin Mary weeps blood and that one of Ganesh drinks milk. And that was why metaphysics and scince were such courageous enterprises, such startling inventions, bigger than the wheel, bigger than agriculture, human artifacts set right against the grain of human nature.

-- Ian McEwan, Enduring Love (1998, p. 181)

6 points RichardKennaway 18 April 2009 10:39:42PM Permalink

You're never aware of your current point of view, only of previous ones.

-- William T. Powers

6 points RichardKennaway 18 April 2009 10:20:00PM Permalink

Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

-- St. Paul. (Phillipians 4:8)

(Yes, yes, someone who had a major hand in creating Christianity. I know. As context, I first encountered these words in the 1999 "Doomwatch" pilot, where they are spoken at the funeral of Dr Quist, and then googled it.)

6 points AndySimpson 18 April 2009 07:51:53PM Permalink

Life is short, and truth works far and lives long: let us speak the truth.

--Arthur Schopenhauer

6 points dreeves 18 April 2009 07:50:32PM Permalink

"Trying to be happy is like trying to build a machine for which the only specification is that it should run noiselessly." -- (unknown)

6 points dreeves 18 April 2009 07:42:51PM Permalink

"This isn't right. This isn't even wrong." -- Wolfgang Pauli, on a paper submitted by a physicist colleague

6 points CronoDAS 18 April 2009 07:21:51PM Permalink

"[T]he purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning, and inhibit clarity." - Calvin, Bill Watterson's "Calvin and Hobbes"

6 points MichaelGR 18 April 2009 07:04:05PM Permalink

Protein engineering is often approached as if it were part of biology. Imagine approaching aerospace engineering as if it were part of ornithology: Although the pioneers of human flight learned a lot about wings from birds, if they had waited for success in making artificial feathers and artificial muscle, we’d still be on the ground.

--K. Eric Drexler

6 points Rune 18 April 2009 06:11:00PM Permalink

"Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned." -- Avicenna, Medieval Philosopher

6 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 May 2009 12:59:12PM Permalink

A competitive game, to me, is a debate. You argue your points with your opponent, and he argues his. “I think this series of moves is optimal,” you say, and he retorts, “Not when you take this into account.”

Debates in real life are highly subjective, but in games we can be absolutely sure who the winner is.

-- David Sirlin, Playing to Win

6 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 May 2009 12:54:38PM Permalink

Most of us, I suspect, would rather believe that the devil is running things than that no one is in charge, that our lives, our loves, World Series victories, hang on the whims of fate and chains of coincidences, on God throwing dice, as Einstein once referred to quantum randomness. I've had my moments of looking back with a kind of vertigo realizing how contingent on chance my life has been, how if I'd gotten to the art gallery earlier or later or if the friend I was supposed to have dinner with had showed up, I might not have met my wife that night, and our daughter would still be in an orphanage in Kazakhstan.

-- Dennis Overbye

6 points Cyan 21 May 2009 05:12:17AM Permalink

It is the mark of an instructed mind to rest assured with that degree of precision that the nature of the subject admits, and not to seek exactness when only an approximation of the truth is possible.

-- Aristotle

6 points Cyan 21 May 2009 05:11:18AM Permalink

Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it.

-- Donald E. Knuth

6 points staircasewit 20 May 2009 10:45:49PM Permalink

"If our Gods and our hopes are nothing but scientific phenomena, then let us admit it must be said that our love is scientific as well." -Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam

I desire to know which interpretation of this quote was intended by the author, but I know which one I prefer.

6 points gaffa 15 June 2009 10:49:42AM Permalink

"Although the first solution is the one usually given, I prefer this second one because it reduces the need to think, replacing it by the automatic calculus. Thinking is hard, so only use it where essential."

--Dennis Lindley, Understanding Uncertainty

6 points cousin_it 24 July 2009 08:53:07PM Permalink

I would note that orthodox statistics and the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory are just two different manifestations of a single intellectual disease, closely related to logical positivism, which has debilitated every area of theoretical science in this century. The symptoms of this disease are the loss of conceptual discrimination; i.e., the inability to distinguish between probability and frequency, between reality and our knowledge of reality, between meaning and method of testing, etc.

-- E.T. Jaynes, summarizing all of Eliezer's posts

6 points steven0461 22 July 2009 08:55:27PM Permalink

“Do as I say, not as I do:” this is considered the very motto of hypocrisy. But does anyone believe that having a good character is as easy as wanting it? If virtue is as difficult as other excellences, there must be few or none who are perfectly virtuous. If the rest of us are not even to talk about virtue or express admiration for it, how shall anyone improve? A hypocrite is one who claims virtue beyond what he possesses, not one who recommends virtue beyond what he claims. If a man’s principles are no better than his character, it is less likely to be a sign of an exemplary character than a sign of debased principles.

-- Mark Thompson

6 points steven0461 22 July 2009 07:38:58PM Permalink

All my life I've had one dream, to achieve my many goals.

-- Homer Simpson

6 points JustinShovelain 02 July 2009 10:51:23PM Permalink

In a sense, words are encyclopedias of ignorance because they freeze perceptions at one moment in history and then insist we continue to use these frozen perceptions when we should be doing better.

-- Edward de Bono

6 points brian_jaress 06 August 2009 08:32:18AM Permalink
   It's great to be able to stop
   When you've planned a thing that's wrong,
   And be able to do something else instead

-- Fred M. Rogers, "What Do You Do?"

6 points Yvain 03 September 2009 03:09:19PM Permalink

"What's that saying?" he said, smiling crookedly. "When you've eliminated the impossible, whatever it is that remains--- "

"--- however improbable, must be the truth. Yes, the problem is, the man who wrote that believed in faeries, and that he could photograph them."

  • S. M. Stirling, The Peshawar Lancers
6 points Jens 02 September 2009 09:17:52PM Permalink

Follow the man who seeks the truth; run from the man who has found it.

-- Vaclav Havel

6 points MichaelGR 02 September 2009 07:57:56PM Permalink

Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.

-Benjamin Franklin

6 points gwern 26 October 2009 04:34:15PM Permalink

"Whoso wishes to grasp God with his intellect becomes an atheist."

--Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf

(M. Aug. Gottlieb Spangenbergs Apologetische Schluß-Schrift (Leipzig and Görlitz, 1752; http://berlin.wolf.ox.ac.uk/lists/quotations/quotations_by_ib.html )

6 points epistememe 23 October 2009 06:03:28AM Permalink

There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth…not going all the way, and not starting.

Buddha

6 points RichardKennaway 22 October 2009 11:47:47PM Permalink

"A theory which cannot be mortally endangered cannot be alive."

W. A. H. Rushton, quoted in J.R. Platt, Strong Inference, Science vol.146, n.3642, 1964.

6 points Tom_Talbot 22 October 2009 10:46:16PM Permalink

Besides porking (really) hot babes, flipping out, wailing on guitars, and cutting off heads, a ninja has to train. They have to meditate ALL THE TIME. But most importantly, each morning a ninja should think about going a little crazier than the day before. Beyond thinking about going berserk, a ninja must, by definition, actually go berserk.

Robert Hamburger, REAL Ultimate Power, The Official Ninja Book

6 points ArjenD 22 October 2009 07:23:19PM Permalink

Mathematics is rational, not reasonable.

-- Terry Padden, in "Ultimately, in Physics the Rational shall become Reasonable!"

6 points CronoDAS 22 October 2009 05:26:30PM Permalink

You got to have a dream,

If you don't have a dream,

How you gonna have a dream come true?

6 points Rain 30 November 2009 03:12:33AM Permalink

Phfft! Facts. You can use them to prove anything.

-- Homer Simpson

6 points Rain 30 November 2009 03:07:38AM Permalink

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

-- Alan Kay

6 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 November 2009 11:43:30PM Permalink

"Isn't it pretty to think so."

-- Ernest Hemingway, The Sun also Rises

6 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 November 2009 11:37:47PM Permalink

"In Life's name, and for Life's sake, I say that I will use the Art for nothing but the service of Life. I will guard growth and ease pain. I will fight to preserve what grows and lives well in its own way; and I will change no object or creature unless its growth and life, or that of the system of which it is part, are threatened. To these ends, in the practice of my Art, I will put aside fear for courage, and death for life, when it is right to do so---till Universe's end."

-- The Wizard's Oath (from So You Want To Be A Wizard by Diane Duane)

6 points FAWS 10 January 2010 03:25:40PM Permalink

"I once spent a whole day in thought, but it was not so valuable as a moment in study. I once stood on my tiptoes to look out into the distance, but it was not so effective as climbing up to a high place for a broader vista. Climbing to a height and waving your arm does not cause the arm's length to increase, but your wave can be seen farther away. Shouting downwind does not increase the tenseness of the sound, but it is heard more distinctly. A man who borrows a horse and carriage does not improve his feet, but he can extend his travels 1,000 li [~500km] A man who borrows a boat and paddles docs not gain any new ability in water, but he can cut across rivers and seas. The gentleman by birth is not different from other men; he is just good at "borrowing" the use of external things."

-- Xunzi, An Exhortation to Learning (勸學) 4, translated by John Knoblock in "Xunzi: A Translation and study of the Complete Works"

6 points RichardKennaway 09 January 2010 09:32:48AM Permalink

"With my eyes I can see you. With your eyes I can see myself."

K. Bradford Brown

6 points JohannesDahlstrom 07 January 2010 10:05:35PM Permalink

Matter flows from place to place

And momentarily comes together to be you

Some people find that thought disturbing

I find the reality thrilling

—Richard Dawkins quoted in Our Place in the Cosmos

6 points Bongo 09 February 2010 06:41:20PM Permalink

So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable Creature, since it enables one to find or make a Reason for every thing one has a mind to do.

-- Benjamin Franklin

6 points clockbackward 01 February 2010 03:06:30PM Permalink

"In my experience, the most staunchly held views are based on ignorance or accepted dogma, not carefully considered accumulations of facts. The more you expose the intricacies and realities of the situation, the less clear-cut things become."

Mary Roach - from her book Spook

6 points Rain 01 February 2010 12:41:51PM Permalink

The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man who cleans up the river.

-- H. Ross Perot

6 points Wei_Dai 20 March 2010 06:46:57AM Permalink

Learn to criticize ideas, especially your own. Most new ideas are wrong or inadequate. If you don't reject most of your ideas promptly, then you're almost surely fooling yourself, and if you also spread them, you're almost surely polluting the intellectual world. But if an idea really seems to stand up under testing, try filling in more details, and criticizing it again.

— K. Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation 2.0: Advice To Aspiring Nanotechnologists

6 points alexflint 14 March 2010 08:07:34PM Permalink

The terrible truth is that postmodernism is what happens when somebody who believes what he reads, reads the Philosophy canon.

-- Quee Nelson, The Slightest Philosophy

6 points uninverted 07 March 2010 09:23:47PM Permalink

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science

—Charles Darwin

6 points MichaelHoward 04 March 2010 08:46:33PM Permalink
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

-- William Ernest Henley (1875)

6 points aausch 02 March 2010 05:48:23AM Permalink

You do ill if you praise, but worse if you censure, what you do not understand. Leonardo da Vinci

6 points saliency 01 March 2010 06:19:19PM Permalink

“Still seems it strange, that thou shouldst live forever? Is it less strange, that thou shouldst live at all? This is a miracle; and that no more.” Edward Young

6 points anonym 04 April 2010 01:18:52AM Permalink

Fundamental progress has to do with the reinterpretation of basic ideas.

Alfred North Whitehead

6 points Amanojack 03 April 2010 06:16:57PM Permalink

We originally want or desire an object not because it is agreeable or good, but we call it agreeable or good because we want or desire it.

-- Ludwig von Mises, Epistemological Problems of Economics

6 points billswift 03 April 2010 04:16:09AM Permalink

If you can be sure of being right only 55 percent of the time, you can go down to Wall Street and make a million dollars a day. If you can't be sure of being right even 55 percent of the time, why should you tell other people they are wrong?

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

6 points Tetronian 02 April 2010 01:56:15PM Permalink

O Lord, make our enemies quite ridiculous!

--Voltaire

6 points Rain 01 April 2010 08:47:09PM Permalink

As you can easily imagine we often ask ourselves here despairingly: "What, oh, what is the use of the war? Why can't people live peacefully together? Why all this destruction?"

The question is very understandable, but no one has found a satisfactory answer to it so far. Yes, why do they make still more gigantic planes, still heavier bombs and, at the same time, prefabricated houses for reconstruction? Why should millions be spent daily on the war and yet there's not a penny available for medical services, artists, or for poor people?

Why do some people have to starve, while there are surpluses rotting in other parts of the world? Oh, why are people so crazy?

I don't believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone, are guilty of the war. Oh no, the little man is just as guilty, otherwise the peoples of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There's in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.

-- Anne Frank, 3 May 1944, aged 14

6 points Jayson_Virissimo 02 May 2010 12:56:48AM Permalink

Skeptic, n. One who doubts what he does not want to believe and believes what he does not want to doubt.

-L. A. Rollins, Lucifer's Lexicon

6 points Thomas 01 May 2010 04:42:23PM Permalink

No problem can stand the assault of sustained thinking.

--Voltaire

6 points phaedrus 19 June 2010 02:30:06PM Permalink

"We live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance" - John Archibald Wheeler

6 points Morendil 19 June 2010 10:51:25AM Permalink

Everyone who takes basic statistics has it drilled into them that "correlation is not causation." (When I took psych. 1, the professor said he hoped that, if he were to come to us on our death-beds and prompt us with "Correlation is," we would all respond "not causation.") This is a problem, because one can infer correlation from data, and would like to be able to make inferences about causation. There are typically two ways out of this. One is to perform an experiment, preferably a randomized double-blind experiment, to eliminate accidental sources of correlation, common causes, etc. That's nice when you can do it, but impossible with supernovae, and not even easy with people. The other out is to look for correlations, say that of course they don't equal causations, and then act as if they did anyway.

-- Cosma Shalizi on Graphical Models

6 points Kevin 15 June 2010 04:53:21AM Permalink

clippy.paperclips: how many humans, as a fraction of total humans, have a belief about whether or not they are a human, and believe they are not a human?

me: this is a subculture of humans that believes they are really animals: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furry_fandom

clippy.paperclips: so those are the normal ones? and it's like a war against the irrational majority?

me: bad example.

6 points gwern 02 June 2010 09:01:57PM Permalink

"This achievement is often praised as a sign of the great superiority of modern civilization over the many faded and lost civilizations of the ancients. While our great skill lies in finding patterns of repetition under the apparent play of accident and chance, less successful civilizations dealt by appealing to supernatural powers for protection. But the voices of the gods proved ignorant and false; they have been silenced by the truth."

--James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games

6 points Cyan 02 June 2010 02:45:49AM Permalink

Using language that is appropriate in one linguistic framework in a different linguistic framework is what causes philosophical confusion and pseudo puzzles, also known as the history of philosophy.

-- Thomas Cathcart Daniel Klein, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar... : Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes

6 points Rain 01 June 2010 11:39:56PM Permalink

Many receive advice; few profit by it.

-- Publius Syrus

6 points WrongBot 02 July 2010 12:55:06AM Permalink

...science will save the world. Science is the only thing that can save the world. Science is unstoppable, reason cannot be killed, logic cannot be stopped, there is no force on Earth which can stop a scientist from learning, and turning our backs on science will doom us all. Even the gods are rational and obey laws. The future is not something which happens by just waiting for time to pass. And if you want to be assured of a life after death, you have to build it yourself.

From Fine Structure, by Sam Hughes.

6 points ata 25 August 2010 04:59:33AM Permalink

Farnsworth: My god, is it possible?

Fry: It must be possible. It's happening.

— Futurama: "The Late Philip J. Fry"

6 points Baughn 22 August 2010 02:37:43PM Permalink

On the nature of ethics:

There is no justice in the laws of Nature, Headmaster, no term for fairness in the equations of motion. The universe is neither evil, nor good, it simply does not care. The stars don't care, or the Sun, or the sky. But they don't have to! We care! There is light in the world, and it is us.

~ Eliezer Yudkowsky c/o Harry Potter, Methods of Rationality chapter 39.

6 points Airedale 11 August 2010 04:48:08PM Permalink

I entered the Lager (Auschwitz) as a non-believer, and as a non-believer I was liberated and have lived to this day. Actually, the experience of the Lager with its frightful iniquity confirmed me in my nonbelief. It has prevented me, and still prevents me, from conceiving of any form of providence or transcendent justice. . . . I must nevertheless admit that I experienced (and again only once) the temptation to yield, to seek refuge in prayer. This happened in October 1944, in the one moment in which I lucidly perceived the imminence of death . . . naked and compressed among my naked companions with my personal index card in hand, I was waiting to file past the “commission” that with one glance would decide whether I should go immediately into the gas chamber or was instead strong enough to go on working. For one instance I felt the need to ask for help and asylum; then, despite my anguish, equanimity prevailed; one does not change the rules of the game at the end of the match, nor when you are losing. A prayer under these conditions would have been not only absurd (what rights could I claim? and from whom?) but blasphemous, obscene, laden with the greatest impiety of which a nonbeliever is capable. I rejected the temptation; I knew that otherwise were I to survive, I would have to be ashamed of it

-- Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved (quoted by Damon Linker at The New Republic ; h/t Andrew Sullivan)

6 points Morendil 05 September 2010 04:49:04PM Permalink

Let’s consider what an economist would do if he wanted to study horses. [...] What would he do? He’d go to his study and think, ‘What would I do if I were a horse?’ And he’d come up with the conclusion that he’d maximize his utility.

-- Ronald Coase, quoting Ely Devons

The longer, less soundbite-y quote is also interesting:

Now what’s wrong with this situation? What’s wrong with economists acting in this sort of way? I’ll tell you a tale about an English economist, Ely Devons. I was at a conference and he said, “Let’s consider what an economist would do if he wanted to study horses.” He said, “What would he do? He’d go to his study and think, ‘What would I do if I were a horse?’ And he’d come up with the conclusion that he’d maximize his utility.” That wouldn’t take us very far if we were interested in horses, but we aren’t really interested in horses at all. What Devons said was, I think, part of the problem, but not the whole of it. I think it’s not really the most important objection – the lack of realism.

What I think is important is that economists don’t study the working of the economic system. That is to say, they don’t think they’re studying any system with all its interrelationships. It is as if a biologist studied the circulation of the blood without the body. It is a pretty gory thought, but it wouldn’t get you anywhere. You wouldn’t be able to discuss the circulation of the blood in a sensible way. And that’s what happens in economics. In fact the economic system is extremely complicated. You have large firms and small firms, differentiated firms and narrowly specialized firms, vertically integrated firms and those single-stage firms; you have in addition non-profit organizations and government entities – and all bound together, all operating to form the total system. But how one part impinges on the other, how they are interrelated, how it actually works – that is not what people study. What is wrong is the failure to look at the system as the object of study.

6 points homunq 04 September 2010 06:10:51PM Permalink

I'm looking for a Darwin quote I used to have, but lost. It was something about how whenever he encoutered a fact that seemed wrong to him, he immediately noted it down, as such facts are both important and easy to forget.

It's harder to find than you think. It's not on the master list of rationality quotes or any of the top 10 google results for "darwin quotes". And the problem with 19th century thinkers is that their vocabulary is too big, and so Google is crippled against them.

(Edit: good job. I had tried "fact", but not limiting the source. And some other words I attempted - "note", "write", "remember", "forget" - are not there.)

Anyone who upvotes this comment is committing to upvote the person who finds the quote.

6 points Alan 03 September 2010 03:05:15AM Permalink

If there were a party of those who are not sure they are right, I'd belong to it.

--Albert Camus

6 points lionhearted 01 September 2010 08:42:41AM Permalink

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

-- Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor

6 points RichardKennaway 01 September 2010 08:12:46AM Permalink

This one is rather long, but I think makes a point worth considering for anyone writing to instruct the public.

One who hopes to effect any good by his writings, must be so pure in his life, that what he proposes for instruction or imitation must be a transcript of his own heart. But general improvement is so little to be anticipated, that almost any attempt which may be made by an individual in his zeal to do good, seems to be lost labour. Those whose character has attained to the greatest perfectness, are at all times the persons most willing and anxious to avail themselves of any hint or suggestion which might tend to improve them in virtue and knowledge, so that what is intended for universal benefit serves but to instruct a very few, and those few the individuals who require it least. Serious works, meant to reform the careless, are read only by those who already are serious, and disposed to assent to what such works set forth. In that case their object, humanly speaking, is in a great measure defeated. It seems hopeless to attempt to infuse a taste for serious reading into the minds of the thoughtless multitude. Write down to the capacity of the weak and slenderly informed, or write up to the taste of the intellectual portion of them; give it cheap, or give it for nothing, it is all the same--a man will not thus be forced or induced to read what you put in print for his especial benefit.

The most powerful means, therefore, of promoting what is good, is by example, and this means is what is in every individual's power. One man only in a thousand, perhaps, can write a book to instruct his neighbours, and his neighbours in their perversity will not read it to be instructed. But every man may be a pattern of living excellence to those around him, and it is impossible but that, in his peculiar sphere, it will have its own weight and efficacy; for no man is insignificant who tries to do his duty--and he that successfully performs his duty, holds, by that very circumstance, a station, and possesses an influence in society, superior to that which can be acquired by any other distinction whatever. But it is only those who propose to themselves the very highest standard, that attain to this distinction. There are many different estimates of what a rationalist's duty is, and society is so constituted, that very false notions are formed of that in which true excellence and greatness consists; besides, many men who are theoretically right are practically wrong--all which detracts from the weight of rational influence upon human society. But however much human opinion may vary, and however inconsistent human practice may be, there is but one right rule; and it is only he who has this rule well defined in his own mind, who can exhibit that preeminence in the rational life which is the noblest distinction to which man can attain. It is deeply to be regretted that they who seek for this preeminence are a very small number compared with the mass of the professedly rational world. But small though the number be, the good which might be effected through their means is incalculable, if they were bound as in solemn compact to discountenance all those vices and habits which the usages of society have established into reputable virtues--thus becoming as it were a band of conspirators against the formless lord of this world and his kingdom--transfusing and extending their principles and influence, till they draw men off from their allegiance to that old tyrant by whom they have been so long willingly enslaved.

The italicised words are where I made some systematic substitutions from the original text, and of course the hyperlink is not in the original. Here's the attribution, rot13'd:

Sebz gur 1842 cersnpr ol Tenpr Jrofgre gb Yrjvf Onlyl'f Gur Cenpgvpr bs Cvrgl: Qverpgvat n Puevfgvna Ubj gb Jnyx, gung Ur Znl Cyrnfr Tbq (1611). Jvgu "Puevfgvna" ercynprq ol "engvbany".

Just in case the writer's actual subject would have provoked a reflexive rejection.

6 points CronoDAS 01 September 2010 07:18:09AM Permalink

Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.

-- Mark Twain

6 points ata 09 November 2010 05:00:29AM Permalink

Rationality quotes: almost everything from @BadDalaiLama on Twitter.

(Edit: there's also this handy archive.)

6 points MichaelGR 06 November 2010 06:48:52PM Permalink

If you can't tell whose side someone is on, they are not on yours. -Warren E. Buffett

6 points XiXiDu 06 November 2010 03:44:52PM Permalink

We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on.

Richard Feynman

6 points MichaelGR 04 November 2010 09:09:50PM Permalink

It is still an unending source of surprise for me how a few scribbles on a blackboard or on a piece of paper can change the course of human affairs. -Stanislaw Ulam

6 points Nominull 04 November 2010 03:23:23AM Permalink

There are more fools than knaves in the world, else the knaves would not have enough to live upon.

-Samuel Butler

6 points RichardKennaway 02 November 2010 09:36:22PM Permalink

Beware of no man more than of yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us.

Charles H. Spurgeon

6 points atucker 08 December 2010 10:46:18PM Permalink

Theories have four stages of acceptance. i) this is worthless nonsense; ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view, iii) this is true, but quite unimportant; iv) I always said so.

-- J.B.S. Haldane

6 points sfb 07 December 2010 05:52:51PM Permalink

"If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you." -Oscar Wilde

6 points sfb 04 December 2010 07:15:15AM Permalink

"The second suggestion is to think as well as to read. I know people who read and read, and for all the good it does them they might just as well cut bread-and-butter. They take to reading as better men take to drink. They fly through the shires of literature on a motor-car, their sole object being motion. They will tell you how many books they have read in a year.

Unless you give at least forty-five minutes to careful, fatiguing reflection (it is an awful bore at first) upon what you are reading, your ninety minutes of a night are chiefly wasted. This means that your pace will be slow.

Never mind. " - Arnold Bennett, How to Live on 24 hours per day.

6 points sfb 04 December 2010 06:56:21AM Permalink

"To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune... to lose both seems like carelessness." - Oscar Wilde (though he didn't mean it to refer to cryogenics).

6 points neq1 04 December 2010 03:10:53AM Permalink

You have to realize that a great number of things are discussed in these proceedings that the mind just can't deal with, people are simply too tired and distracted, and by way of compensation they resort to superstition.

-- Kafka, The Trial

6 points MichaelGR 03 December 2010 05:38:21PM Permalink

A small leak can sink a great ship.

-Benjamin Franklin

5 points Kaj_Sotala 28 April 2009 03:39:12PM Permalink

If it were true that every innate predisposition of an organism were the result of some selectional pressure, then I would have to conclude that my dog has been selected for chasing tennis balls.

-- John Searle

5 points Autodidact 25 April 2009 06:24:09AM Permalink

Information wants to be anthropomorphized. ~ Anonymous

5 points Kaj_Sotala 21 April 2009 08:18:20AM Permalink

Not exactly a quote, but close enough - http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1993-02-07/

5 points pangloss 20 April 2009 06:19:45AM Permalink

"Even in the games of children there are things to interest the greatest mathematician." G.W. Leibniz

5 points benthamite 18 April 2009 10:17:02PM Permalink

In science there are no “depths”; there is surface everywhere[.]

Otto Neurath, ‘The Scientific Conception of the World: the Vienna Circle’, in Marie Neurath and Robert S. Cohen (eds.), Otto Neurath: Empiricism and Sociology, Dordrecht, 1973, p. 306

5 points benthamite 18 April 2009 09:58:30PM Permalink

The man of science, whatever his hopes may be, must lay them aside while he studies nature; and the philosopher, if he is to achieve truth, must do the same. Ethical considerations can only legitimately appear when the truth has been ascertained: they can and should appear as determining our feeling towards the truth, and our manner of ordering our lives in view of the truth, but not as themselves dictating what the truth is to be.

Bertrand Russell, ‘Mysticism and Logic’, in John G. Slater (ed.), The Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, London, 1986, vol. 8, p. 33

5 points RichardKennaway 18 April 2009 07:24:55AM Permalink

Nature understands no jesting. She is always true, always serious, always severe. She is always right, and the errors are always those of man.

--Goethe

5 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 May 2009 01:00:46PM Permalink

That, I think, is part of the nature of beliefs about justice—they are absolute, bright edged, in a way in which preferences are not. The point is summed up in the Latin phrase Fiat justicia, ruat coelum—let justice be done though the sky falls. Those whose bumper stickers read "If you want peace, work for justice" simply take it for granted that there is no question what is just; if you want to find out, just ask them. The problem with the world as they see it is merely that other people are insufficiently virtuous to act accordingly.

-- David D. Friedman, If you want war, work for justice

5 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 May 2009 12:53:24PM Permalink

Polemic—persuasive writing—only works when it doesn't feel like propaganda. The audience must feel that you're being absolutely fair to people on the other side.

-- Orson Scott Card, "Characters and Viewpoint"

5 points RichardKennaway 21 May 2009 12:54:12PM Permalink

The tools we use have a profound (and devious!) influence on our thinking habits, and, therefore, on our thinking abilities.

Edsger W. Dijkstra, "Selected Writings on Computing"

5 points arundelo 20 May 2009 10:08:02PM Permalink

If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

G.K. Chesterton

5 points Kaj_Sotala 19 May 2009 07:31:34PM Permalink

...look at 9/11 tower destruction theories. They want to believe something other than the planes caused the buildings to collapse. OK fine, let them bark up that tree if they want, but why must they leap to bizarre stories about government agents and secret operations? None of that is necessitated by the idea that another mechanism was fully or partially responsible. Why don't they suspect that Al-Quaeda planted a bomb in the basement in order to hasten the building's collapse, as a secondary part of their operation? Why leap to the US government as the culprit? Why not suspect that there was a flaw in the building construction, and that the blueprints don't reflect it because the building contractor covered it up? Why not suspect Martians? They create an incredibly open-ended doubt into which you could plug anything, and then they fill this void with (you guessed it) a story, with completely arbitrary elements.

-- Mike Wong

5 points RobinZ 09 July 2009 03:06:26AM Permalink

I thought about med school again, the anatomy class I had told Jason about. Candice Boone, my one-time almost-fiancée, had shared that class with me. She had been stoic during the dissection but not afterward. A human body, she said, ought to contain love, hate, courage, cowardice, soul, spirit ... not this slimy assortment of blue and red imponderables. Yes. And we ought not to be dragged unwilling into a harsh and deadly future.

But the world is what it is and won't be bargained with. I said as much to Candice.

She told me I was "cold". But it was still the closest thing to wisdom I had ever been able to muster.

  • Robert Charles Wilson, Spin
5 points spriteless 06 July 2009 03:15:09AM Permalink

...and then I came over here, and then I told you the story, and then it was now, and then I don't know what happened.

-Fry of the show Futurama perceives the future well

5 points spuckblase 04 July 2009 09:02:15AM Permalink

"The reader in search of knock-down arguments in favor of my theories will go away disappointed. Whether or not it would be nice to knock disagreeing philosophers down by sheer force of argument, it cannot be done. Philosophical theories are never refuted conclusively. (or hardly ever. Gödel and Gettier may have done it.) The theory survives its refutation - at a price. Perhaps that is something we can settle more or less conclusively. But when all is said and done, and all the tricky arguments and distinctions and counterexamples have been discovered, presumably we will still face the question which prices are worth paying, which theories are on balance credible, which are the unacceptably counterintuitive consequences and which are the acceptably counterintuitive ones. On this question we may still differ. And if all is indeed said and done, there will be no hope of discovering still further arguments to settle our differences."

-- David Lewis (thousand-year-old vampire)

5 points cousin_it 03 July 2009 05:00:32PM Permalink

Do stuff, read stuff, think and make up your mind. Have you actually selected an entity which you think of as "objective"? This is like having a slave port in your brain.

-- yosefk

5 points ajayjetti 11 August 2009 11:15:20PM Permalink

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it. ~Andre Gide

5 points JohannesDahlstrom 07 August 2009 07:28:35PM Permalink

The trouble was that he was talking in philosophy, but they were listening in gibberish.

-- Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

5 points edolet 06 August 2009 10:27:59PM Permalink

"Most men are so thoroughly subjective that nothing really interests them but themselves. They always think of their own case as soon as any remark is made, and their whole attention is engrossed and absorbed by the merest chance reference to anything which affects them personally, be it never so remote: with the result that they have no power left for forming an objective view of things, should the conversation take that turn; neither can they admit any validity in arguments which tell against their interest or their vanity."

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

5 points haig 03 September 2009 08:05:04AM Permalink

"It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into." (Jonathan Swift )

5 points Rain 01 September 2009 10:44:39PM Permalink

A person's greatest virtue is his ability to correct his mistakes and continually make a new person of himself.

-Wang Yang-Ming

5 points Rain 01 September 2009 10:38:08PM Permalink

We see things as we are, not as they are.

-Leo Rosten

5 points HughRistik 01 September 2009 10:04:02PM Permalink

We at the Church of Google believe the search engine Google is the closest humankind has ever come to directly experiencing an actual God (as typically defined). We believe there is much more evidence in favour of Google's divinity than there is for the divinity of other more traditional gods.

We reject supernatural gods on the notion they are not scientifically provable. Thus, Googlists believe Google should rightfully be given the title of "God", as She exhibits a great many of the characteristics traditionally associated with such Deities in a scientifically provable manner.

-- The Church of Google

(Moved from the LW/OB Rationality Quotes thread, where is was previously posted by accident)

5 points CronoDAS 27 October 2009 10:50:30AM Permalink

MY mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red:

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound:

I grant I never saw a goddess go,—

My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:

And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.

-Shakespeare, Sonnet 130

(Incidentally, I find it annoying that I can't post properly formatted poetry or song lyrics in comments. I can't use a single carriage return, and am instead forced to choose between putting a blank line in between every line of the quote, or putting everything on one line.)

Edit: Thank you! Now, is there a way to add spaces to the beginning of a line? HTML has a tendency to ignore whitespace; does the code block override that?

5 points MBlume 24 October 2009 01:19:02AM Permalink

You must engage in these internal dialogues all the time, and you must let yourself lose the arguments gracefully. Writing may be a game of solitaire, but it isn’t a game at which you can cheat.

-Theodore Cheney, Getting the Words Right

5 points epistememe 23 October 2009 06:14:48AM Permalink

The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything. Except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands. -Oscar Wilde

5 points Bindbreaker 22 October 2009 11:17:14PM Permalink

"My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there."

Charles F. Kettering

5 points MichaelAnissimov 22 October 2009 08:10:28PM Permalink

"Why then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 239–251

5 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 October 2009 04:07:32PM Permalink

Why is it believed that what pictures you can make in your head, and what is true or necessarily true, are terribly well connected? If there is not a substantial connection between the (necessarily) true and your conception of the (necessarily) true, then Hume's argument goes up in smoke.

-- Aretae

5 points CronoDAS 08 December 2009 09:48:40PM Permalink

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" - Upton Sinclair

5 points ABranco 01 December 2009 03:55:38AM Permalink

Objectivity must be operationally defined as fair treatment of data, not absence of preference. —Stephen Jay Gould

5 points akshatrathi 30 November 2009 04:51:13PM Permalink

I believe that scientists can change fields easily and sometimes make bigger impact in the new fields they enter. I think it’s because people who move do not look at the same problem from the traditional point-of-view. This enables us to come up with unique solutions. We are not trapped by dogma and if we are bold we can rise quickly.

-- Aubrey de Grey

5 points Morendil 30 November 2009 08:03:11AM Permalink

Our actions generally satisfy us: we recognize that they are in the main coherent, and that they make appropriate, well-timed contributions to our projects as we understand them. So we safely assume them to be the product of processes that are reliably sensitive to ends and means. That is, they are rational, in one sense of that word. But that does not mean they are rational in a narrower sense: the product of serial reasoning.

-- Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained

5 points James_Miller 30 November 2009 03:37:58AM Permalink

The history of the world is the history of the triumph of the heartless over the mindless.

From the Yes, Minister TV show.

5 points RobinZ 30 November 2009 12:01:58AM Permalink

Never give in - never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

Winston Churchill, 29 October 1941

5 points ABranco 09 January 2010 02:42:32PM Permalink

Don't go around saying the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing; it was here first. —Mark Twain

5 points James_K 08 January 2010 04:37:42AM Permalink

There is a perception among the people who are in charge of this monkey that if you just turn the rankings over to a computer, the computer will figure those things out. The reality is that it can't. It is very difficult to objectively measure anything if you don't know what it is you are measuring.

~ Bill James

5 points gaffa 07 January 2010 01:49:18PM Permalink

He thought he knew that there was no point in heading any further in that direction, and, as Socrates never tired of pointing out, thinking that you know when you don't is the main cause of philosophical paralysis.

-- Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea

5 points brian_jaress 07 February 2010 08:07:14AM Permalink

What is it about us, the public, and what is it about conformity itself that causes us all to require it of our neighbors and of our artists and then, with consummate fickleness, to forget those who fall into line and eternally celebrate those who do not?

-- Ben Shahn, "The Shape of Content"

5 points gwern 06 February 2010 07:52:07PM Permalink

"If we were bees, ants, or Lacedaemonian warriors, to whom personal fear does not exist and cowardice is the most shameful thing in the world, warring would go on forever.

But luckily we are only men - and cowards."

--Erwin Schrodinger, Mind and Matter

5 points Morendil 04 February 2010 10:26:25AM Permalink

Ce que l'on conçoit bien s'énonce clairement / Et les mots pour le dire arrivent aisément

-- Nicolas Boileau

Rough translation: "What is well understood can be told clearly, and words to express it should come easily."

ETA: it is worth pondering the converse; just because something rolls off the tongue doesn't mean it's well understood. It could be that it's only well-rehearsed.

What the quote is aimed at is work of a supposedly high intellectual caliber, which just so happens to be couched in impenetrable jargon. Far more often, that is in fact evidence of muddled thought, not that the material is "beyond me".

5 points Kevin 02 February 2010 02:27:10AM Permalink

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely the same reasons.

-- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

5 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 February 2010 12:35:59AM Permalink

Karl Marx's writings glorifying communism (though Western capitalists regard it as grim and joyless) may well have reflected merely his alienation from society due to a lifelong series of excruciatingly painful boils, according to a recent British Journal of Dermatology article. In an 1867 letter, Marx wrote, "The bourgeoisie will remember my carbuncles until their dying day." [Reuters, 10-30-07]

-- News of the Weird (relevance)

5 points anonym 01 February 2010 07:01:33AM Permalink

The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.

John Maynard Keynes

5 points anonym 01 February 2010 06:49:32AM Permalink

The secret of what anything means to us depends on how we've connected it to all the other things we know. That's why it's almost always wrong to seek the "real meaning" of anything. A thing with just one meaning has scarcely any meaning at all.

Marvin Minsky -- The Society of Mind

5 points Matt_Duing 04 March 2010 03:52:38AM Permalink

"If it works for you, it works because of you." -- Mark Greenway on marriage

5 points BenAlbahari 03 March 2010 04:01:51PM Permalink

...it would be a mistake to suppose that the difficulty of the case [for gender equality] must lie in the insufficiency or obscurity of the grounds of reason on which my convictions rests. The difficulty is that which exists in all cases in which there is a mass of feeling to be contended against. So long as opinion is strongly rooted in the feelings, it gains rather than loses in stability by having a preponderating weight of argument against it. For if it were accepted as a result of argument, the refutation of the argument might shake the solidity of the conviction; but when it rests solely on feeling, worse it fares in argumentative contest, the more persuaded adherents are that their feeling must have some deeper ground, which the arguments do not reach; and while the feeling remains, it is always throwing up fresh intrenchments of argument to repair any breach made in the old. And there are so many causes tending to make the feelings connected with this subject the most intense and most deeply-rooted of those which gather round and protect old institutions and custom, that we need not wonder to find them as yet less undermined and loosened than any of the rest by the progress the great modern spiritual and social transition; nor suppose that the barbarisms to which men cling longest must be less barbarisms than those which they earlier shake off.

— John Stuart Mill, 1869

5 points roland 03 March 2010 06:04:07AM Permalink

Develop the habit of asking yourself, "Will I definitely use this information for something immediate and important?"

-- Timothy Ferriss - The 4 Hour Workweek

5 points Nic_Smith 03 April 2010 01:59:05AM Permalink

Since a gene is just a molecule, it can't choose to maximize its fitness, but evolution makes it seem as though it had.... Why, for example, do songbirds sing in the early spring? The proximate cause is long and difficult. This molecule knocked against that molecule. This chemical reaction is catalyzed by that enzyme. But the ultimate cause is that birds are signalling territorial claims to each other in order to avoid unnecessary conflict. They just do what they do. But the net effect of an immensely complicated evolutionary process is that songbirds behave as though they had rationally chosen to maximize their fitness.

Laboratory experiments on pigeons show that they sometimes honor various consistency requirements of rational choice theory better than humans (Kagel, Battalio, and Green 1995). We don't know the proximate explanation. Who knows what goes on inside the mind of a pigeon? Who knows what goes on in the minds of stockbrokers for that matter? -- Ken Binmore, Rational Decisions

5 points orthonormal 03 April 2010 01:43:19AM Permalink

This is not to say that M. Legrandin was anything but sincere when he inveighed against snobs. He could not (from his own knowledge, at least) be aware that he himself was one, since it is only with the passions of others that we are ever really familiar, and what we come to discover about our own can only be learned from them. Upon ourselves they react only indirectly, through our imagination, which substitutes for our primary motives other, auxiliary motives, less stark and therefore more seemly. Never had Legrandin's snobbishness prompted him to make a habit of visiting a duchess as such. Instead, it would encourage his imagination to make the duchess appear, in his eyes, endowed with all the graces. He would gain acquaintance with the duchess, assuring himself that he was yielding to the attractions of mind and heart which the vile race of snobs could never understand. Only his fellow-snobs knew that he was of their number, for, owing to their inability to appreciate the intervening efforts of his imagination, they saw in close juxtaposition the social activity of Legrandin and its primary cause.

-- Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

5 points neq1 02 April 2010 01:59:15AM Permalink

""Not evil, but longing for that which is better, more often directs the steps of the erring"

Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie

5 points RichardKennaway 01 April 2010 10:01:35PM Permalink

At this point I reveal myself in my true colours as a stick-in-the-mud. I hold a number of beliefs that have been repudiated by the liveliest intellects of our time. I believe that order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction. I prefer gentleness to violence, forgiveness to vendetta. On the whole I think that knowledge is preferable to ignorance, and I am sure that human sympathy is more valuable than ideology. I believe that in spite of recent triumphs of science, men haven't changed much in the last two thousand years. And in consequence, we must still try to learn from history. History is ourselves.

Sir Kenneth Clarke, "Civilisation" (Excerpt on YouTube.)

5 points roland 10 May 2010 09:39:06PM Permalink

But the sense of understanding no more means that you have knowledge of the world than caressing your own shoulder means that someone loves you.

-- Michael Bishop(50 Years of Successful Predictive Modeling Should Be Enough: Lessons for Philosophy of Science).

5 points JenniferRM 02 May 2010 09:41:25PM Permalink

Scientists spend an extraordinary amount of time worrying about being wrong and take great pains to prove others so. In fact, science is the one area of discourse in which a person can win considerable prestige by proving himself wrong.

-- Sam Harris (emphasis in original)

5 points JenniferRM 02 May 2010 08:51:26PM Permalink

You can’t prescribe decently for something you hate. It will always come out wrong. You can’t prescribe decently for something you despair in. If you despair of humankind, you’re not going to have good policies for nurturing human beings. I think people ought to give prescriptions who have ideas for improving things, ought to concentrate on the things that they love and that they want to nurture.

Jane Jacobs

5 points RolfAndreassen 02 May 2010 07:23:07PM Permalink

He drew a deep breath, closed his eyes, drew old lessons to his mind. “What is, is. No loss is made better by dwelling on it; no pain is cured by the mind’s eye regarding it. Accept the casualties. Assess your capabilities. Continue the mission.” The recitation made him feel a little better; a cold clarity came to him.

And Rumours of War, time-travel story on the Ynglinga Saga blog.

5 points Kazuo_Thow 02 May 2010 06:47:05AM Permalink

[...] but we have no guarantee at all that our formal system contains the full empirical or quasi-empirical stuff in which we are really interested and with which we dealt in the informal theory. There is no formal criterion as to the correctness of formalization.

-- Imre Lakatos, What Does a Mathematical Proof Prove?

ETA: When I first read this remark, I couldn't decide whether it was terrifying, or just a very abstract specification of a deep technical problem. I currently think it's both of those things.

5 points soreff 01 May 2010 03:08:52PM Permalink

We live in an age of uncertainty, complexity, and paranoia. Uncertainty because, for the past few centuries, there has simply been far too much knowledge out there for any one human being to get their brains around; we are all ignorant, if you dig far enough. Complexity multiplies because our areas of ignorance and our blind spots intersect in unpredictable ways - the most benign projects have unforseen side effects. And paranoia is the emergent spawn of those side effects; the world is not as it seems, and indeed we may never be able to comprehend the world-as-it-is, without the comforting filter lenses of our preconceptions and our mass media.

-- Charles Stross (Afterword: Inside the Fear Factory)

5 points RichardKennaway 01 May 2010 07:59:00AM Permalink

"You pride yourself on freedom of choice. Let me tell you that this very freedom is one of the factors that most confuse and undermine you. It gives you full play for your neuroses, your surface reactions and your aberrations. What you should aim for is freedom from choice! Faced with two possibilities, you spend time and effort to decide which to accept. You review the whole spectrum of political, emotional, social, physical, psychological and physiological conditioning before coming up with the answer which, more often than not, does not even satisfy you then. Do you know, can you comprehend, what freedom it gives you if you have no choice? Do you know what it means to be able to choose so swiftly and surely that to all intents and purposes you have no choice? The choice that you make, your decision, is based on such positive knowledge that the second alternative may as well not exist."

-- Rafael Lefort, "The Teachers of Gurdjieff", ch. XIV

5 points CronoDAS 08 June 2010 03:22:10AM Permalink

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rage at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

-- Dylan Thomas

5 points Rain 01 June 2010 11:38:58PM Permalink

I can't understand it. I can't even understand the people who can understand it.

-- Queen Juliana

5 points Morendil 13 July 2010 05:28:59PM Permalink

New and stirring things are belittled because if they are not belittled, the humiliating question arises, "Why then are you not taking part in them?"

-- H. G. Wells

5 points Rain 02 July 2010 12:05:47AM Permalink

Johnny Smith: If you could go back in time to Germany, before Hitler came to power, knowing what you know now, would you kill him?

[...]

Dr. Sam Weizak: I don't like this, John. What are you getting at?

Johnny Smith: What would you do? Would you kill him?

Dr. Sam Weizak: All right. All right. I'll give you an answer. I'm a man of medicine. I'm expected to save lives and ease suffering. I love people. Therefore, I would have no choice but to kill the son of a bitch.

-- The Dead Zone, 1983

5 points wedrifid 19 August 2010 01:55:32PM Permalink

"There are worse things than seeming irresponsible. Losing, for example."

~ Paul Graham

5 points XiXiDu 08 August 2010 07:07:44PM Permalink

You use a metaphor to describe some concept. The metaphor isn’t the thing you describe - it’s just a tool that you use. But someone takes the metaphor, and runs with it, making arguments that are built entirely on metaphor, but which bear no relation to the real underlying concept. And they believe that whatever conclusions they draw from the metaphor must, therefore, apply to the original concept.

— Mark Chu-Carroll, Metaphorical Crankery: a bad metaphor is like a steaming pile of …

5 points Cyan 03 August 2010 12:20:11AM Permalink

Sometimes, I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear

And I can't help but ask myself how much I let the fear

Take the wheel and steer

It's driven me before

And it seems to have a vague, haunting mass appeal

But lately I'm beginning to find that I

Should be the one behind the wheel

- Incubus, Drive

5 points Bongo 25 September 2010 09:32:02PM Permalink

Distrust any historical anecdote good enough to have survived on its literary merit.

-- David Friedman

5 points Christian_Szegedy 15 September 2010 06:51:28AM Permalink

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

Marcus Aurelius

5 points Luke_Grecki 15 October 2010 05:32:03PM Permalink

There is no point in saying that one should not doubt or one should believe. Just to say 'I believe' does not mean that you understand and see. When a student works on a mathematical problem, he comes to a stage beyond which he does not know how to proceed, and where he is in doubt and perplexity. As long as he has this doubt, he cannot proceed. If he wants to proceed, he must resolve this doubt. And there are ways of resolving that doubt. Just to say 'I believe', or 'I do not doubt' will certainly not solve the problem. To force oneself to believe and to accept a thing without understanding is political, and not spiritual or intellectual.

Walpola Rahula

5 points Yvain 07 October 2010 07:08:15PM Permalink

The line between genius and insanity is measured only by success

-- unknown

5 points Snowyowl 17 November 2010 01:46:46PM Permalink

If it's a stupid idea and it works, then it isn't stupid.

-- French Ninja, Freefall

Puts me in mind of "Rationalists should win".

5 points NihilCredo 11 November 2010 05:17:59AM Permalink

“But for that matter, how do you explain the fact that the statues of Easter Island are megaliths exactly like the Celtic ones? Or that a Polynesian god called Ya is clearly the Yod of the Jews, as is the ancient Hungarian Io-v’, the great and good god? Or that an ancient Mexican manuscript shows the Earth as a square surrounded by sea, and in its center is a pyramid that has on its base the inscription Aztlan, which is close to Atlas and Atlantis? Why are pyramids found on both sides of the Atlantic?”

“Because it’s easier to build pyramids than spheres. Because the wind produces dunes in the shape of pyramids and not in the shape of the Parthenon.”

“I hate the spirit of the Enlightenment.”

Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum

5 points smdaniel2 08 November 2010 06:29:04AM Permalink

half of being smart is knowing what you're dumb at

solomon short (david gerrold's fictional character)

5 points shokwave 04 November 2010 03:47:46PM Permalink

The course of human progress staggers like a drunk; its steps are quick and heavy but its mind is slow and blunt

-Jesse Michaels of Operation Ivy

Posted because it's a useful and evocative metaphor: the drunk feels himself leaning or falling in one direction, and puts his foot down in that direction to steady himself. If he doesn't step far enough, he is still leaning in the same direction, and he steps again. In this way we can make fantastic progress in directions we don't like while getting further away from the ways we did want to go.

5 points Tesseract 03 November 2010 10:24:21AM Permalink

If oxen and horses and lions had hands and were able to draw with their hands and do the same things as men, horses would draw the shapes of gods to look like horses and oxen to look like oxen, and each would make the gods’ bodies have the same shape as they themselves had.

Xenophanes

5 points RichardKennaway 02 November 2010 09:33:42PM Permalink

A book is a machine to think with.

I. A. Richards, "Principles of Literary Criticism"

5 points RichardKennaway 02 November 2010 09:30:40PM Permalink

'Tis with our Judgments as our Watches, none

Go just alike, yet each believes his own.

Pope, Essay on Criticism

5 points Hurt 03 December 2010 05:05:30PM Permalink

I don't know if this quote has already shown up, but it's one of my favorites.

"Consider this: You are the architect of your own imprisonment."

-- Macros the Black (from Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Saga)

5 points DSimon 03 December 2010 08:14:26AM Permalink

| "Why did I do that?" I asked.

-- The Poet Who Is Odd, Knapsack Poems by Elanor Arnason

4 points AndySimpson 18 April 2009 07:39:23PM Permalink

Before we study Zen, the mountains are mountains and the rivers are rivers. While we are studying Zen, however, the mountains are no longer mountains and the rivers are no longer rivers. But then, when our study of Zen is completed, the mountains are once again mountains and the rivers once again rivers.

-- Buddhist saying

4 points MBlume 27 May 2009 01:41:03AM Permalink

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

-Patrick Henry

4 points CronoDAS 22 May 2009 05:11:31AM Permalink

"First Law of Communication: The purpose of communication is to advance the communicator." - Putt's Law and the Successful Technocrat

4 points RichardKennaway 21 May 2009 02:56:50PM Permalink

Nothing greater can happen to men than the perfection of their mental functions.

Leibniz (quoted in Maat, "Philosophical languages in the Seventeenth Century: Dalgarno, Wilkins, Leibniz")

4 points Rune 21 May 2009 02:23:34AM Permalink

"If you understand something in only one way, then you do not really understand it at all." -- Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind

4 points JohannesDahlstrom 20 May 2009 12:57:52PM Permalink

From comp.lang.c++.moderated:

This is just a simple example to illustrate the mechanics of the problem. The actual system is far more complex. For the sake of argument suppose that f passes the Handle to a different thread context that destroys the Handle during one of three distinct timeframes depending on the runtime environment. Either (1) before the constructor returns; (2) after the constructor returns and before the assigned handle is destroyed; or (3) after the assigned handle is destroyed. The problem occurs in case 1. -Andrew.

That doesn't make it any less flawed; it just demonstrates that it's flawed in a complex manner.

Kevin P. Barry

4 points Nominull 19 May 2009 09:46:52PM Permalink

Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it.

-G. K. Chesterton

4 points Vladimir_Nesov 26 June 2009 02:18:04AM Permalink

Loyalty mods don't whisper propaganda in your skull. They don't bombard you with images of the object of devotion while stimulating the pleasure centres of your brain, or cripple you with pain and nausea if you stray from correct thought. They don't cloud your mind with blissful euphoria, or feverish zealotry; nor do they trick you into accepting some flawed but elegant piece of casuistry. No brainwashing, no conditioning, no persuasion. A loyalty mod isn't an agent of change; it's the end product, a fait accompli. Not a cause for belief, but belief itself, belief made flesh - or rather, flesh made into belief.

--Greg Egan, "Quarantine".

4 points gwern 17 June 2009 03:14:39AM Permalink

"Student: How can one realize his Self-nature? I know so little about the subject.

Yasutani: First of all, you must be convinced you can do so. The conviction creates determination, and the determination zeal.

But if you lack conviction, if you think 'maybe I can get it, maybe I can't', or even worse, 'This is beyond me!' - you won't awaken no matter how much you do zazen."

pg 126, The Three Pillars of Zen, ISBN 8070-5979-7

When I came across this quote, I was struck by its relevance to one of Eliezer's beisutsukai posts about finding the successor to quantum mechanics (The Failures of Eld Science; on a side note, are there any 'internal'/wikilinks to LW articles for us to use, instead of hardwiring lesswrong.com URLs?).

I meant to write a post on how interesting it is that we intellectually know that many of our current theories must be wrong, and even have pretty good ideas as to which ones, but we still cannot psychologically tackle them with the same energy as if we had some anomaly or paradox to explain, or have the benefit of hindsight. The students in Eliezer's story know that quantum mechanics is wrong; someone with a well-verified observation contradicting quantum mechanics knows that it is wrong (replace 'quantum' with 'classical' as you wish). They will achieve better results than a battalion of conventional QMists.

But nothing quite gelled.

4 points abigailgem 16 June 2009 08:23:55AM Permalink

"Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them" - Mr Gradgrind, Hard Times (Dickens)

An anti-rationalist quote. Dickens believes there is more to life than rationality. Does his satire upon us here have any basis in reality?

4 points RichardKennaway 15 June 2009 03:23:52PM Permalink

I quoted this in another comment, but I think it deserves to be in here as well. It used to be in the rec.backcountry FAQ.

"You have before you the disassembled parts of a high-powered hunting rifle, and the instructions written in Swahili. In five minutes an angry Bengal tiger will walk into the room."

-- Eugene Miya

4 points Yvain 15 June 2009 09:53:01AM Permalink

"Train yourself to get suspicious every time you see simplicity. Any claim that the root of a problem is simple should be treated the same as a claim that the root of a problem is Bigfoot. Simplicity and Bigfoot are found in the real world with about the same frequency." -- David Wong

4 points CronoDAS 15 June 2009 08:31:47AM Permalink

Two very similar quotes:

"It would not be a bad definition of math to call it the study of terms that have precise meanings." - Paul Graham

"Mathematics is the study of precisely defined objects." - Norman Gottlieb

4 points MichaelGR 15 June 2009 03:52:35AM Permalink

For an idea to have survived so long across so many cycles is indicative of its relative fitness. Noise, at least some noise, was filtered out. Mathematically, progress means that some new information is better than past information, not that the average of new information will supplant past information, which means that it is optimal for someone, when in doubt, to systematically reject the new idea, information, or method. Clearly and shockingly, always. -Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness p.52

4 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 June 2009 01:20:33AM Permalink

"No matter how the next forty-seven thousand years turn out, whether they are ages of liberty or tyranny, happiness or misery, by the time two hundred thousand million years are passed, the civilization that rules the sevagram will occupy basically the same area of the local galactic supercluster, and achieve roughly the same height of enlightenment and technical advancement. You are wasting my time with trifles."

-- John C. Wright, Null-A Continuum

4 points clay 15 June 2009 01:20:06AM Permalink

Monroe Fieldbinder sees psychologist to bounce ideas off him. One of Fieldbinder's ideas is that the phenomenon of modern party-dance is incompatible with self-consciousness, makes for staggeringly unpleasant situations (obvious resource: Amherst/Mt. Holyoke mixer '68) for the all self-conscious person. Modern party-dance is simply writhing to suggestive music. It is ridiculous, silly to watch and excruciatingly embarrassing to perform. It is ridiculous, and yet absolutely everyone does it, so that it is the person who does not want to do the ridiculous thing who feels out of place and uncomfortable and self-conscious . . . in a word, ridiculous.

David Foster Wallace (The Broom Of The System, pg. 158)

4 points Jayson_Virissimo 08 July 2009 01:30:33AM Permalink

Many of the arguments on LW remind me of this quote:

"for the obscurity of the distinctions and of the principles that they use is the reason why they talk about everything as confidently as if they knew about it, and defend everything they say about it against the most subtle and knowledgeable, without leaving any room to convince them of their mistake. In doing this they seem to me to resemble a blind person who, in order to fight without any disadvantage against a sighted person, would bring them into the depths of a very dark celar."

-Rene Descartes from the Discourse on Method

4 points wuwei 04 July 2009 12:39:12AM Permalink

Testing shows the presence, not the absence of bugs.

-- Edsger Dijkstra

4 points anonym 03 July 2009 04:17:10AM Permalink

Philosophers who reject God, Cartesian dualism, souls, noumenal selves, and even objective morality cannot bring themselves to do the same for the concepts of free will and moral responsibility. The question is: Why?

Tamnor Sommers — Distributed Cognition and the Will: Individual Volition and Social Context, “The Illusion of Freedom Evolves”, p. 62, MIT Press, 2007

4 points anonym 03 July 2009 04:15:06AM Permalink

Pretend what we may, the whole man within us is at work when we form our philosophical opinions.

William James

4 points Adaptive 03 July 2009 12:45:42AM Permalink

Go is a game of big moves and little moves. One problem we will examine here is what may look big now can, in the final analysis, be small, and vice versa. The ability to see what is and what is not territory and potential territory is to see the truth on the board.

– Peter Shotwell, Go: More than a game

4 points thomblake 14 August 2009 02:23:39PM Permalink

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect.

-Mark Twain

4 points djcb 06 August 2009 05:10:04PM Permalink

"It only stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master."

~ Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

[ I'm actually not too fond of objectivism, but this quote is spot-on ]

4 points Christian_Szegedy 03 September 2009 08:47:41PM Permalink

I would roughly divide philosophies into two categories, "crazy" and "sensible". Of the two, I definitely prefer the former. Sensible philosophies are noted for their sobriety, propriety, rationality, analytic skill and other things. One definite advantage they have is that they are usually quite sensible. Crazy philosophies are characterized by their madness, spontaneity, sense of humor, total freedom from the most basic conventions of thought, amorality, beauty, divinity, naturalness, poesy, absolute honesty, freedom from inhibitions, contrariness, paradoxicalness, lack of discipline and general yum-yummyness. ... SNIP ... In general I would say that psychologist, psychiatrist, economists, sociologists and political scientists tend towards the "sensible", whereas artists, poets, musicians and (to my great delight!) chemists, theoretical physicists, mathematicians - especially mathematical logicians - tend towards what I call "crazy".

Raymond M. Smullyan, The Tao Is Silent

4 points anonym 01 September 2009 03:40:38PM Permalink

The right answer is seldom as important as the right question.

Kip Thorne

4 points haig 25 October 2009 11:26:17PM Permalink

"People are not base animals, but people, about 90% animal and 10% something new and different. Religion can be looked on as an act of rebellion by the 90% animal against the 10% new and different (most often within the same person)."

4 points Wei_Dai 25 October 2009 04:57:00PM Permalink

[This is not a quote, but a meta discussion.]

I find it curious that the quotes posted here have higher votes on average than the usual discussion comments, and it makes me think that I have a below-average appreciation for quotations. Why do people value them, I wonder?

4 points Theist 23 October 2009 03:01:47AM Permalink

"I can't see it, so you must be wrong."

my four-year-old

4 points Proto 03 December 2009 03:19:42PM Permalink

"We confess our little faults to persuade people that we have no large ones." - Francois de La Rochefoucauld

4 points ABranco 01 December 2009 03:53:52AM Permalink

Love consists of overestimating the differences between one woman and another. —George Bernard Shaw

(OK, it's sexist. I admit it.)

4 points Will_Euler 30 November 2009 06:22:48AM Permalink

We read frequently if unknowingly, in quest of a mind more original than our own.

--Harold Bloom

4 points Nic_Smith 30 November 2009 06:07:25AM Permalink

"Admiration is the state furthest from understanding." - Sosuke Aizen, Bleach

4 points cousin_it 30 November 2009 02:17:13AM Permalink

Who stops you from inventing waterproof gunpowder?

-- Kozma Prutkov

4 points MichaelGR 30 November 2009 12:23:26AM Permalink

There's no difference between a pessimist who says, "Oh it's hopeless, so don’t bother doing anything." and an optimist who says, "Don't bother doing anything, it's going to turn out fine anyways. Either way, nothing happens.

--Yvon Chouinard

4 points quanticle 11 January 2010 03:54:57AM Permalink

A theory, however elegant and economical, must be rejected or revised if it is untrue; likewise laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust.

-- John Rawls, A Theory of Justice

4 points ABranco 09 January 2010 02:44:39PM Permalink

The absence of alternatives clarifies your mind marvelously. —Kissinger

4 points ABranco 09 January 2010 02:44:19PM Permalink

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. —Nietzsche

4 points RichardKennaway 09 January 2010 09:37:06AM Permalink

"I'd rather do what I want to do than what would give me the most happiness, even if I knew for a fact exactly what actions would lead to the latter."

Keith Lynch, rec.arts.sf.fandom, hhbk90$hu5$3@reader1.panix.com

4 points Nic_Smith 07 January 2010 08:39:18PM Permalink

"Psychologists tell us everyone automatically gravitates toward that which is pleasurable and pulls away from that which is painful. For many people, thinking is painful." - Leil Lowndes, How to Talk to Anyone

(Given the context, perhaps a bit of a Dark Arts view.)

4 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 13 February 2010 08:53:03PM Permalink

If you think of losing as “not winning,” then when you try to work out why you’ve lost, or (God forbid) why you’re a loser, you’ll tend to focus on the things you didn’t do and the qualities you don’t have. So it goes with any “negative” concept, one that is defined by what it isn’t (think of how “background” = “everything but the foreground” or how valleys are made by the mountains around them).

I think it’s worthwhile to occasionally invert the picture, to see “being a winner” as “not being a loser.” That way you attend to those habits of mind that are hurting you, instead of the ones that might be helping.

-- Jsomers.net, How to be a loser (Relevance)

4 points tut 13 February 2010 08:29:32PM Permalink

"Love God?" you're in an abusive relationship.

DLC, commenter at Pharyngula.

4 points gwern 05 February 2010 06:43:22PM Permalink

"I waste many hours each day being efficient."

--Emanuel Derman

4 points ata 04 February 2010 01:31:05AM Permalink

As the mind learns to understand more complicated combinations of ideas, simpler formulae soon reduce their complexity; so truths that were discovered only by great effort, that could at first only be understood by men capable of profound thought, are soon developed and proved by methods that are not beyond the reach of common intelligence.

Marquis de Condorcet, 1794

4 points ChrisHibbert 03 February 2010 01:53:13AM Permalink

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance: let us ask, "Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?" No. "Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?" No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion. --- David Hume

(quoted in Beyond AI by JoSH Hall)

4 points woodside 02 February 2010 04:46:38AM Permalink

"Most people are more complicated than they seem, but less complicated than they think"

  • BS
4 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 February 2010 12:37:09AM Permalink

Who am I to judge myself?

-- Karp

4 points Matt_Duing 02 March 2010 03:22:25AM Permalink

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

4 points Robin 02 March 2010 01:30:59AM Permalink

Three ways to increase your intelligence

Continually expand the scope, source, intensity of the information you receive. Constantly revise your reality maps, and seek new metaphors about the future to understand what's happening now. Develop external networks for increasing intelligence. In particular, spend all your time with people as smart or smarter than you.

I'll give an upvote to whoever knows the source of that.

4 points JohannesDahlstrom 01 March 2010 06:32:23PM Permalink

You don't use science to show that you're right, you use science to become right.

xkcd

4 points JamesPfeiffer 24 April 2010 06:21:57AM Permalink

Evolving a threat response over a half-million years on the African savannah hasn't really left me with any good mechanisms for dealing with a threatening number.

PartiallyClips

4 points MattPrather 13 April 2010 12:04:25AM Permalink

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell

4 points Vladimir_Golovin 06 April 2010 10:35:21AM Permalink

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

-- Wayne Gretzky (but I've seen it attributed to Michael Jordan and Joe Ledbetter, HS coach)

4 points Zubon 05 April 2010 12:51:16AM Permalink

I could be wrong, but I'd like to see some evidence.

--- Mark Liberman

4 points JenniferRM 02 April 2010 07:22:56PM Permalink

Social scientists are experts at having an explanation for the results, no matter how they come out, so long as they are statistically significant. It is easy to turn the statistical crank. With sufficiently powerful statistical tools, you can find a significant statistical relationship between just about anything and anything else.

Psychologists see no real problem with the current dogma. They are used to getting messy results that can be dealt with only by statistics. In fact, I have now detected a positive suspicion of quality results amongst psychologists. In my experiments I get relationships between variables that are predictable to within 1 percent accuracy. The response to this level of perfection has been that the results must be trivial! It was even suggested to me that I use procedures that would reduce the quality of the results, the implication being that noisier data would mean more.

After some recovery period I realized that this attitude is to be expected from anyone trying to see the failure of the input-output model as a success. Social scientists are used to accounting for perhaps 80% (at most) of the variance in their data. They then look for other variables that will account for more variance. This is what gives them future research studies. The premise is that behavior is caused by many variables. If I account for all the variance with just one variable, it’s no fun and seems trivial.

If psychologists had been around at the time that physics was getting started, we’d still be Aristotelian, or worse. There would be many studies looking for relationships between one physical variable and another—e.g., between ball color and rate of fall, or between type of surface and the amount of snow in the driveway. Some of these relationships would prove statistically significant. Then when some guy comes along and shows that there is a nearly perfect linear relationship between distance traveled and acceleration, there would be a big heave of “trivial” or “too limited”—what does this have to do with the problems we have keeping snow out of the driveway?

Few psychologists recognize that, whatever their theory, it is based on the open-loop input-output model. There is no realization that the very methods by which data are collected imply that you are dealing with an open-loop system. To most psychologists, the methods of doing research are simply the scientific method—the only alternative is superstition. There is certainly no realization that the input-output model is testable and could be shown to be false. In fact, the methods are borrowed, in caricature, from the natural sciences, where the open-loop model works very well, thank you. Progress in the natural sciences began dramatically when it was realized that the inanimate world is not purposive.

Psychologists have mistakenly applied this model of the inanimate world to the animate world, where it simply does not apply.

This was a forgivable mistake in the days before control theory, because before 1948 there was no understanding of how purposive behavior could work. Now we know, but the social sciences have their feet sunk in conceptual concrete. They simply won’t give up what, to them, simply means science.

The author was transformed by reading "Behavior: The Control of Perception"(1973) and began a research program whose early years(?) seem to have been summarized in "Mind Readings: Experimental Studies of Purpose"(1992)

4 points XFrequentist 02 April 2010 06:14:19PM Permalink

Such sad statistical situations suggest that the marriage of science and math may be desperately in need of counseling. Perhaps it could be provided by the Rev. Thomas Bayes.

Tom Siegfried, Odds Are, Its Wrong, on the many failings of traditional statistics in modern science.

4 points RichardKennaway 01 April 2010 10:02:39PM Permalink

A final goal of any scientific theory must be the derivation of numbers. Theories stand or fall, ultimately, upon numbers.

Richard Bellman, Eye of the Hurricane

4 points Zack_M_Davis 18 May 2010 08:53:38AM Permalink

You've been wrong about every single thing you've ever done, including this thing. You're not smart. You're not a scientist. You're not a doctor. You're not even a full-time employee. Where did your life go so wrong?

---Portal (emph. mine)

Relevance: rationalists should win, importance of saying Oops

4 points MBlume 03 May 2010 07:03:18PM Permalink

The new CEO of Coca-Cola in the 1980s had a problem with his senior vice-presidents who thought the company was doing well because they had 45 percent of the soft drink market. He asked them, "What proportion of the liquid market - not just the soft drink market - do we have?" That turned out to be only two percent. The resulting change in the world view of the company led Coca-Cola to increase sales revenue by thirty-five times in just over ten years.

--Review of The Art of Choosing, by Sheena Iyengar

4 points JenniferRM 02 May 2010 08:33:41PM Permalink

An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes, which can be made, in a very narrow field.

Niels Henrik David Bohr (1885-1962)

4 points AlanCrowe 01 May 2010 04:51:53PM Permalink

I got nothing from my tracking system until I used it as a source of critical perspective, not on my performance but on my assumptions about what was important to track.

-- Gary Wolf

4 points Tetronian 01 May 2010 11:27:36AM Permalink

Facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away while scientists debate rival theories for explaining them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air pending the outcome.

Stephen Jay Gould

4 points RichardKennaway 01 May 2010 08:10:54AM Permalink

"I don't believe important statements just because someone makes them. Even if I make them."

-- William T. Powers

4 points orthonormal 27 June 2010 04:40:26PM Permalink

Rational belief is constrained not only by the chains of deduction but also by the rubber bands of probabilistic inference. --Nick Bostrom, Anthropic Bias

4 points Morendil 22 June 2010 11:44:24AM Permalink

A household is a business given over to caring for small, temporarily insane people.

-- Clark Glymour, What Went Wrong: Reflections on Science by Observation

Longer version:

A household is a business given over to caring for small, temporarily insane people, a business subject to cash-flow problems, endless legal harassments, run by people who expect to have sex with each other, who occupy the same space, and who go nuts when either party has sex with anyone else. Once in marriage, a lot of people try to get out as fast as religious tradition, poverty, or devotion to children permits.

(I really like the short one for "small, temporarily insane people", but the one above will tickle many a LW reader's funny bone.)

Via CRS.

4 points cupholder 12 June 2010 12:18:25PM Permalink

Do not ask whether a statement is true until you know what it means.

Errett Bishop

4 points toto 03 June 2010 09:29:12AM Permalink

When it comes to proving such obvious things, one will invariably fail to convince.

Montesquieu, "The Spirit of the Laws", book XXV, chapter XIII. (Link to the book, Original French)

4 points roland 01 June 2010 06:32:15PM Permalink

The method-oriented man is shackled: the problem-oriented man is at least reaching freely toward what is most important. --John R. Platt

4 points Yvain 10 July 2010 10:51:59PM Permalink

The reason Royal Navy [nuclear missles] can be launched without a code is that when it was suggested failsafes should be introduced the British Admiralty took insult at the implication that Officers of the Royal Navy would ever consider launching nuclear missiles without orders or unless it was the correct thing to do.

-- TV Tropes, A Nuclear Error

4 points Cyan 10 July 2010 01:30:13AM Permalink

One day four boys approached Hodja and gave him a bag of walnuts.

"Hodja, we can't divide these walnuts among us evenly. So would you help us, please?"

Hodja asked, "Do you want God's way of distribution or mortal's way?"

"God's way," the children answered.

Hodja opened the bag and gave two handfuls of walnuts to one child, one handful to the other, only two walnuts to the third child and none to the fourth.

"What kind of distribution is this?" the children asked, baffled.

"Well, this is God's way," he answered. "He gives some people a lot, some people a little and nothing to others. If you had asked for mortal's way I would have given the same amount to everybody."

4 points xamdam 07 July 2010 02:18:21PM Permalink

If you don't get this elementary, but mildly unnatural, mathematics of elementary probability into your repertoire, then you go through a long life like a one legged man in an ass kicking contest. You're giving a huge advantage to everybody else.

Charlie Munger

4 points MichaelHoward 02 July 2010 10:35:55PM Permalink

It ought to mean acquiring a method — a method that can be used on any problem that one meets — and not simply piling up a lot of facts.

-- George Orwell

4 points SilasBarta 03 August 2010 04:49:35PM Permalink

I had just recently seen the two Christopher Nolan Batman movies (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight). Here are my favorite quotes; please add any that you like. (Character attribution left off to prevent pre-judgment.) Wikiquote lists.

"It's not who you are on the inside; it’s what you do that defines you." (Compare: Functionalism, substrate independence, timeless identity – I know, that’s probably not what was intended, but note how it’s used in other contexts.)

"Criminals thrive on the indulgence of society's understanding." (Compare to counterfactual reasoning: if we would sympathize with every defection, and felt that “the past is the past”, those wishing to defect would have no reason not to.)

“And what about escalation? […] We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics. We start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor-piercing rounds. […] And you’re wearing a mask, and jumping off rooftops!”

(Also, I watched the earlier Batman movies after seeing this, and frankly, by comparison, they look like campy garbage.)

4 points NihilCredo 03 August 2010 04:22:18AM Permalink

A drawing instead of a quote.

(This one is also interesting. I didn't spot much else worth sharing in the rest of the "comic", however.)

4 points mikerpiker 03 August 2010 02:55:55AM Permalink

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

-H.P. Lovecraft

4 points wedrifid 19 September 2010 05:15:03AM Permalink

I firmly believe that the whole materia medica as now used could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind and all the worse for the fishes.

  • Oliver Wendel Holmes (1809 - 1894)
4 points DanielVarga 04 September 2010 03:39:33PM Permalink

Von Neumann advised Shannon to use the word “entropy” on the grounds that “Nobody knows what entropy really is, so in a debate you will always have the advantage.”

Gowers quoting H-T Yau quoting Shannon quoting von Neumann

4 points NihilCredo 02 September 2010 12:47:30AM Permalink

Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do. (St. Thomas Aquinas)

I find this a very efficient three-step guide to living, provided of course that we interpret "ought to" in a way that is very much not the Angelic Doctor's.

(For the record, he followed up with: The first is taught in the [Nicean] Creed... the second in the Lord's prayer; the third in law. Wish it were so simple.)

4 points Mark_Eichenlaub 01 September 2010 06:05:59PM Permalink

"The things with which we concern ourselves in science appear in myriad forms, and with a multitude of attributes. For example, if we stand on the shore and look at the sea, we see the water, the waves breaking, the foam, the sloshing motion of the water, the sounds, the air, the winds and the clouds, the sun and the blue sky, and light; there is sand and there are rocks of various hardness and permanence, color and texture. There are animals and seaweed, hunger and disease, and the observer on the beach; there may be even happiness and thought. Any other spot in nature has a similar variety of things and influences. It is always as complicated as that, no matter where it is. Curiosity demands that we ask questions, that we try to put things together and try to understand this multitude of aspects as perhaps resulting from the action of a relatively small number of elemental things and forces acting in an infinite variety of combinations."

Richard Feynman "The Feynman Lectures on Physics", section 2-1

4 points James_Miller 01 September 2010 02:50:25PM Permalink

Things are entirely what they appear to be and behind them... there is nothing. (Jean-Paul Sartre)

4 points CronoDAS 24 October 2010 05:46:51AM Permalink

Marijuana is death on writers. I’ve seen several go that route. Typical behavior for a long time marijuana user is as follows. He gets a story idea. He tells his friends about it, and they think it’s wonderful. He then feels as if he’s written it, published it, cashed the check and collected the awards. So he never bothers to write it down.

Alcohol can have the same effect.

-- Larry Niven

4 points mtaran 09 October 2010 03:23:00AM Permalink

From a hacker news thread on the difficulty of finding or making food that's fast, cheap and healthy.

"Former poet laureate of the US, Charles Simic says, the secret to happiness begins with learning how to cook." -- pfarrell

Reply: "Well, I'm sure there's some economics laureate out there who says that the secret to efficiency begins with comparative advantage." -- Eliezer Yudkowsky

4 points MichaelGR 07 November 2010 04:28:24PM Permalink

Overall, however, we've done better by avoiding dragons than by slaying them. -Warren E. Buffett

4 points XiXiDu 04 November 2010 12:59:29PM Permalink

I just came across this and thought it was a pretty funny dialogue: "Reality is that which does not go away upon reprogramming." (Check the first 4 comments here: Chatbot Debates Climate Change Deniers on Twitter so You Don’t Have to)

This is of course a paraphrase borrowed from Philip K. Dick's famous statement:

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.

4 points PeterS 03 November 2010 09:51:17PM Permalink

Isaac Newton's argument for intelligent design:

Were all the planets as swift as Mercury or as slow as Saturn or his satellites; or were the several velocities otherwise much greater or less than they are (as they might have been had they arose from any other cause than their gravities); or had the distances from the centers about which they move been greater or less than they are (as they might have been had they arose from any other cause than their gravities); or had the quantity of matter in the sun or in Saturn, Jupiter, and the earth (and by consequence their gravitating power) been greater or less than it is; the primary planets could not have revolved about the sun nor the secondary ones about Saturn, Jupiter, and the earth, in concentric circles as they do, but would have moved in hyperbolas or parabolas or in ellipses very eccentric. To make this system, therefore, with all its motions, required a cause which understood and compared together the quantities of matter in the several bodies of the sun and planets and the gravitating powers resulting from thence.... And to compare and adjust all these things together in so great a variety of bodies, argues that cause to be, not blind and fortuitous, but very well skilled in mechanics and geometry.

-- Letter to Richard Bentley

4 points joschu 03 November 2010 07:05:45AM Permalink

Out-of-sample error equals in-sample error plus a penalty for model complexity

Y.S. Abu-Mostafa, in explaining the VC inequality of PAC learning.

4 points sixes_and_sevens 02 November 2010 09:06:51PM Permalink

There are times I almost think

Nobody sure of what he absolutely know

Everybody find confusion

In conclusion he concluded long ago

And it puzzle me to learn

That tho' a man may be in doubt of what he know,

Very quickly he will fight...

He'll fight to prove that what he does not know is so!

~ A Puzzlement, The King and I

4 points ActaNonVerba 04 December 2010 10:27:43AM Permalink

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." Henry David Thoreau

4 points ActaNonVerba 04 December 2010 10:27:25AM Permalink

"Even though it is a path of 1,000 miles, you walk one step at a time. Consider this well." - Miyamoto Musashi

4 points Daniel_Burfoot 03 December 2010 06:06:42PM Permalink

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Max Planck

4 points anonym 03 December 2010 08:25:36AM Permalink

The value of a problem is not so much coming up with the answer as in the ideas and attempted ideas it forces on the would be solver.

— Yitz Herstein

4 points JamesAndrix 03 December 2010 05:03:27AM Permalink

"Today I will question my own confusion."

From Today I Will Nourish My Inner Martyr - Affirmations for Cynics by Ann Thornhill Sarah Wells